One that got away
Fandi fears away goal may haunt LionsXII, who are denied a bigger win by Terengganu goalkeeper
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
(Khairul Nizam 30, Faris Ramli 34)
(Gustavo Lopez 39)
Zulfahmi Arifin fell to his knees on the Jalan Besar turf.
His LionsXII teammates wore frowns on their faces.
When referee Zamzaidi Katimin blew the final whistle last night, a hushed silence lingered in the air as 5,891 witnesses knew it was a big wasted opportunity for the LionsXII even though they beat Terengganu 2-1 in the first leg of the Malaysian FA Cup semi-final.
The slim one-goal lead could well prove insufficient when the tie returns to Kuala Terengganu next week.
"I'm very disappointed with the score, but happy with the win. This is only the first half, and we must prepare better for the second leg," LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad lamented with furrowed brows at the post-match press conference.
"It's important to stay focused, and believe. We cannot go (to Kuala Terengganu) with negative thoughts of getting a thrashing or anything like that."
At least the fans could agree with Terengganu coach Abdul Rahman Ibrahim that last night's game will go down in history as a semi-final classic.
With thrusts and counter-thrusts, opportunities to score were fashioned at both ends of the pitch as the teams took turns to hit the woodwork.
The dramatic encounter that witnessed grit, gumption and a dollop of attacking intent saw a total of 27 shots and seven yellow cards.
Khairul Nizam opened the scoring in the 30th minute, sending a daisy cutter into the far corner of Sharbinee Allawee's goal, with an unmarked Faris Ramli doubling the lead just four minutes later, as Sharbinee was caught out of position.
But the Terengganu goalkeeper proved to be the visitors' hero on the night, pulling off at least five top-drawer saves - all of them from point-blank range.
Gustavo Lopez scored with a peach of a free-kick just six minutes before the break, giving Terengganu a vital away goal.
"We knew that the LionsXII would be tough, competitive fighters," said Abdul Rahman.
"We were lucky today, but we also had a few chances. Getting an away goal is good, but still not good enough."
Izzdin Shafiq and Safuwan Baharudin, the latter playing for the LionsXII for the first time since returning from his Melbourne City stint, were superb in the middle of the park last night, breaking up most of what Terengganu threw at them, while also orchestrating forward forays of their own.
But Fandi will have some reshuffling to do ahead of the return leg on Saturday.
He will have to do without four players who will travel to Japan today with the national Under-23 team preparing for the South-east Asia Games, including last night's scorer Faris and forward Sahil Suhaimi.
And, to complicate matters, last season's 16-goal Malaysian Super League top-scorer Paulo Rangel returns from suspension next week, with Terengganu's other foreign forward, Canadian international Issey Nakajima-Farran, possibly coming back from injury.
"To say I won't miss Faris would be (a lie), but the SEA Games is important, and we'll need the other players to step up," said Fandi.
"But maybe we'll need a different type of player for the second leg."
Fandi hailed the dominant performance of Safuwan and Izzdin in midfield but, if Abdul Rahman's veiled warning was to be heeded, he may consider dropping the 24-year-old back into his natural position in central defence next week.
"(LionsXII central defenders) Madhu Mohana and Zulfahmi were free today but, next week, they'll have to mark (Rangel)," said Abdul Rahman.
"He's a deadly finisher. We'll see what happens."
- LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Gabriel Quak (Syafiq Zainal 67), Izzdin Shafiq, Safuwan Baharudin, Faris Ramli (Sufian Anuar 88), Khairul Nizam (Sahil Suhaimi 65), Khairul Amri
- TERENGGANU: Sharbinee Allawee, Vincent Bikana, Gustavo Lopez, Zubir Azmi, Nordin Alias, Azlan Zainal, Sharin Sapien (Hafizal Mohamad 81), Helmi Remeli, Ashari Samsudin (Zairo Anuar 69), Abdul Manaf (Fakhrurazi Musa 86), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha
OTHER SEMI-FINAL RESULT
- Pahang 1 Kelantan 0
- Shots: LionsXII 9 on target, 8 off target; Terengganu 4 on target, 6 off target
- Corners: LionsXII 4, Terengganu 4
- Yellow cards: LionsXII 2 (Gabriel Quak 29, Safuwan Baharudin 39); Terengganu 5 (Azlan Zainal 45+1,Zubir Azmi 75, Zairo Anuar 77, Hafizal Mohamad 83, Helmi Remeli 87)
- Offsides: LionsXII 1 Terengganu 2
- Attendance: 5,891
- Match Rating: 9/10
- Referee: Zamzaidi Katimin 7.5/10
- TNP Man of the Match: Sharbinee Allawee (Terengganu)
Watch the second leg in Terengganu
Al Firdaus Travels is offering a two-day, three-night package for LionsXII fans intending to travel to Terengganu for the second leg of the Malaysian FA Cup semi-final between Fandi Ahmad's men and the Malaysian side on Saturday.
The $160 deal includes a twin-sharing room with breakfast at the Hotel Grand Continental, a ticket in the Singapore section at the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium, travel insurance and lucky draw.
Fans will travel to the north-eastern state of Malaysia via 29-seater coaches, which will depart at 10pm on Friday and return at 11am on Sunday.
For more information, please contact Walter Koh at 81222459/62972246.