Safuwan chomping on the bit
Defender will do 'whatever it takes' to return to action for Fandi's LionsXII
REPORTING FROM SELAYANG
SIME DARBY v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
While he has yet to see the back of the spinal problems that led to the early termination of his loan deal with A-League side Melbourne City, Safuwan Baharudin cannot wait to return to the football pitch.
The 24-year-old looked comfortable as Fandi Ahmad put the LionsXII through their paces at the Geylang training field yesterday, and Safuwan is determined to get back into the starting line-up as they face Malaysian Super League (MSL) cellar-dwellers Sime Darby in Selayang tonight.
"I'm ready to do whatever it takes - take pain-killers or go for an injection - to play," said the Singapore international, after the LionsXII's final training session before travelling north.
"I have played with worse injuries than this, and it's really a question of how you deal with them.
"But, of course, I know that playing for a prolonged period with an injury won't be good."
He scored two goals in six matches for City, after joining them in January on a three-month loan deal.
He returned to the LionsXII, who are eighth in the 12-team MSL, last week.
Safuwan has dealt with knee and hamstring problems, but his back problem is more complicated.
"I've seen the doctor on (Thursday), and we don't really know what the issue with the back is," he said, explaining that surgery could be required.
"It could be two different things, either a problem with nerves or a disc (in the spine). It all depends on how it feels next week."
But the prognosis is positive for now, with team physiotherapist Nurhafizah Abu Sujad revealing that Safuwan has been medically cleared.
"He's passed functional tests, and has been cleared by the doctor, but we'll have to wait till maybe (today) to see if he's actually fit enough to play," she said.
With Madhu Mohana - Fandi's first-choice central defender this season - suspended, Safuwan's potential availability is a blessing.
"If all's OK, we'll play Safuwan; by (today), we'll know if we can," said Fandi.
"He is very eager to fight for his place and to help the team, and he's been training for the past two to three days without pain. It's important that he doesn't feel pain."
Safuwan is set to partner Zulfahmi Arifin in the heart of defence, and he's relishing the prospect of getting in on the act.
"Things may not be that good now but, hopefully, my return will give some confidence to the boys," he said of the LionsXII's record of just two wins in nine outings, with neither victory coming away from home.
Shahdan Sulaiman also returns after suffering a horrific broken ankle at last year's AFF Suzuki Cup.
It will be his first appearance on the LionsXII bench, after leaving S.League side Tampines Rovers at the end of last season.
While Shahdan is looking to ease his way back into action, Safuwan is already looking to jump right into the thick of things.
He said: "I'm hoping to get on the scoresheet, and get as many games as I can."
He is very eager to fight for his place and to help the team, and he’s been training for the past two to three days without pain.
— LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad, on Safuwan Baharudin
Fandi: We must fight complacency
GO FOR IT: Fandi Ahmad wants the LionsXII to get an early goal. - PHOTO: TNP
Sime Darby seem ripe for the picking, as they prop up the 12-team Malaysian Super League (MSL) table and have not won in nine attempts.
But, ahead of tonight's meeting at the Selayang Stadium, LionsXII head coach Fandi Ahmad is taking nothing for granted.
"They may be last in the table and haven't got a win yet, but that's very dangerous - we don't want to be a victim (of complacency)," said Fandi yesterday, after putting his charges through their paces at the Geylang training field.
"They have three foreign attackers (Nemanja Vidakovic, Marko Perovic, and Reinaldo da Costa), and we have to stay focused at defending set-pieces - that's something we've been poor at," he added, pointing to statistics that show more than 60 per cent of goals the LionsXII have conceded have come from dead-ball situations.
Eighth in the standings, the LionsXII were guilty of ball-watching when they fell 4-0 to Selangor on April 18.
They recovered to beat Sarawak 1-0 a week later for only their second win of the season.
He said: "We must get the early goal, especially against a team at the bottom, because then it'll be hard for them (psychologically) to come back."
Fandi will be without Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi, Christopher van Huizen and Zakir Samsudin, who have joined the Under-23 squad in centralised training ahead of next month's South-east Asia (SEA) Games, but he is not losing sleep.
"We are supportive of the SEA Games and that just means that everybody else has a chance to play now, and an opportunity to stake a claim on positions.
"The team spirit is good and they just have to be aware of their duties as individuals," said Fandi.
"We must look to build on the win in our last game and get points to pull us away from the bottom of the table."
Probable LionsXII line-up: Izwan Mahbud, Raihan Rahman, Safuwan Baharudin, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Nazrul Nazari, Firdaus Kasman, Izzdin Shafiq, Gabriel Quak, Khairul Nizam, Khairul Amri.
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