Fandi's wake-up call to the LionsXII
MALAYSIA CUP, GROUP A
LIONSXII v PAHANG
(Jalan Besar Stadium, 7.30pm)
No Khairul Amri, and maybe no Baihakki Khaizan.
Tonight, the LionsXII will take on defending champions Pahang in their second Malaysia Cup game at Jalan Besar knowing that a win will be crucial, with three away games still to come.
And they will have to do that without their top scorer Amri (seven goals) and possibly their most experienced defender.
Coach Fandi Ahmad told The New Paper yesterday the young players have to step up not just to salvage a disappointing season where they finished eighth in the Malaysian Super League, but also to fight for their future with the club.
Fandi did not mince his words when he said: "We must win this match, because we didn't get maximum points against Felda United. We cannot even draw. Two points from two home games, and our hopes are as good as gone.
"Amri's fractured cheekbone rules him out of our next two games at least, and Bai has a shoulder injury picked up from the Juventus friendly.
"The younger players such as Gabriel (Quak) and Shahfiq (Ghani) have to step up and carry the team now.
"Some players are also effectively playing for their contracts and I'm issuing them this challenge: Show me you have the quality to stay in this team."
Although the LionsXII have won three and lost just once against Pahang at Jalan Besar, with an aggregate score of 10-3, Malaysia's East Coast giants are in great form, after winning their opening Group A match 4-0 against Johor Darul Ta'zim II, with fearsome strikers Dickson Nwakaeme and Matias Conti contributing three goals.
Fandi understands why some will describe his ultimatum as tough, but the 52-year-old feels it is necessary.
"Some people question why the coach would say something like this, but I think we need a change in mentality and drop the self-pity," he said.
"It's important to send a strong message across and every player must take responsibility for their own and the team's performance."
Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan admitted yesterday his team would start the game as favourites.
The former Malaysia and Pahang star said: "The LionsXII are young and fast in their counter-attacks but we have learnt from our mistakes in our previous defeats here.
"I want a minimum of one point here because I want us to qualify for the quarter-finals as soon as possible.
"We are not going to throw ourselves forward and do silly things in defence. The key word is discipline."
The LionsXII did not have their full complement of players in training yesterday afternoon as full-time National Servicemen Madhu Mohana, Faris Ramli and Samuel Benjamin had to represent their respective units in an inter-formation competition.
Despite the odds, LionsXII midfielder Raihan Rahman, who is set to start, is relishing the challenge.
The 23-year-old said: "We know the threat Dickson and Conti pose. My job is to help the defence win possession and make it difficult for opponents to get through.
"We can cope and we can win.
"Pahang are one of the most physical teams in Malaysia but this is also where we can show what we are made of."
● Probable LionsXII starting 11: Izwan Mahbud, Madhu Mohana, Afiq Yunos, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Gabriel Quak, Raihan Rahman, Isa Halim, Faris Ramli, Shahfiq Ghani, Sufian Anuar
Sufian under the spotlight
After his teammates were done with training yesterday, LionsXII striker Sufian Anuar continued to practise his finishing with coach Fandi Ahmad, who threw the ball at him in various trajectories and at different speeds.
With top striker Khairul Amri ruled out with a fractured cheekbone, Sufian has been entrusted with the main responsibility of getting the goals tonight against Pahang in a Malaysia Cup Group A game the LionsXII need to win, after their insipid 0-0 draw with Felda United last Wednesday.
Speaking to The New Paper later, Fandi said: "It's important for Sufian to be composed. Hold the ball well and the midfield will help him out.
"Sufian is strong, mobile and aggressive. He will need to be at his best also in terms of finishing when he goes up against a big centre back like Damion Stewart.
"We know he will give 100 per cent and we hope he can score a couple of goals for us, as well."
Sufian declined to talk about the match yesterday.
The 26-year-old forward told TNP: "Sorry ah bro, I rather talk after the game, okay?"
His desire to maintain focus on the match is understandable.
The lack of goals has been Fandi's bugbear all season - the LionsXII scored six goals fewer in this year's Malaysian Super League (MSL) than last season - and all eyes will be on whether Sufian can score his team's first goal in this Malaysia Cup campaign.
Sufian definitely has the potential, after grabbing a 15-minute hat-trick when the LionsXII beat Pahang 4-1 in their last encounter in the MSL in April.
Midfielder Raihan Rahman said: "We have to score and we have faith in Sufian. But it's not fair to depend only on him. All of us need to chip in. At the moment, we'll take any goal from any player if it helps us win the game."
- DAVID LEE
Cubs thrashed in Brunei
The Singapore Under-21 side suffered a humiliating end to the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy tournament in Brunei yesterday, when they were thrashed 6-0 by Indonesia's Under-19s.
The Cubs, led by Richard Bok, the former coach of S.League giants Warriors FC, finished the annual invitational tournament with five losses in five group matches, conceding a whopping 19 goals in the process.
Singapore lost 4-0 to Vietnam U-19s, 3-1 to Cambodia U-21s, 3-1 to Brunei U-21s, and 3-0 to Malaysia U-21s - the Harimau Muda B team who compete in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
Comprising the majority of the Singapore Cubs team which competes in the Prime League, Singapore also brought along the LionsXII trio of Emmeric Ong, Ignatius Ang and Syafiq Zainal, as well as former LionsXII shot-stopper Neezam Aziz, as over-aged players for the tournament.