It's all in the head for Safuwan
Safuwan comes to LionsXII's rescue again with two brilliant headers
(Sahil Suhaimi 35, Safuwan Baharudin 53, 88)
(Paulo Rangel 4, 44)
Another LionsXII game, another refereeing controversy, another fightback led by another blockbuster Safuwan Baharudin performance to rescue another gutsy win.
Make no mistake about it, instead of a predictable encounter, last night's 3-2 win over Terengganu in front of a 5,388-strong Jalan Besar crowd was a topsy turvy, end-to-end affair that easily qualifies as a LionsXII classic.
Two-one down at the break, LionsXII midfielder Safuwan came up with the goods again, nodding in Madhu Mohana's long throw in the 53rd minute, before heading in substitute Christopher van Huizen's tantalising 88th-minute cross from the right wing.
The victory propelled the LionsXII to the top of Group A with seven points from three games, three ahead of Kedah, who have played a game fewer after their away game with Johor Darul Ta'zim II was postponed yesterday due to the haze.
For a player who started his professional football career as a centre back, Safuwan has now scored a jaw-dropping 13 goals in all competitions for clubs and country, and nine have come from headers, including a brace to beat JDT II last week.
So what was going through his head?
"The only thing I was thinking about was helping the team come back and win from a losing position," said the 1.81m-tall defender-turned midfielder who celebrated his 24th birthday on Tuesday.
"I'm enjoying myself playing in midfield, but it's not easy having to track the attackers and also having to go forward and create.
"Yes, I used to be a forward when I was younger and I was topscorer during the Inter-ITE Games, before coach Salim Moin converted me into a centre back in the National Football Academy.
"I guess it helps to have been a forward before but, these days, I like to run from deep positions to attack."
But it's not all just about using his head as LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad lauded Safuwan's committed performances.
The legendary No. 17, who has now masterminded a 17-match unbeaten run at Jalan Besar, said: "He is No. 1. He was all over the pitch and he was key for us again tonight.
"Safuwan put his body, heart and soul in every match. Just look at how many knocks he has got. Every local player should follow his dedication and determination."
While he felt his team could still improve in terms of cutting down lapses in concentration that led to Paulo Rangel's two well-worked goals in the fourth and 44th minutes, Fandi also praised the character of his team for coming from behind twice to take maximum points.
The 53-year-old added: "The two late wins against JDT II and Terengganu show our never-say-die attitude. I threw on three attackers because we are never happy with just a point.
"Faris Ramli was clearly taken down by (Vincent) Bikana in the first 10 seconds of the game and we didn't get a penalty.
"We went down soon after, but Sahil (Suhaimi) scored a classy goal into the bottom corner, before Safuwan helped us with two goals.
"These are vital wins, but we are not there yet. We have to get the job done as soon as possible and seal our place in the quarter-finals.
"And then we can dream and work towards another fairy-tale cup run like our FA Cup win."
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 6.5, Faritz Abdul Hameed 7, Madhu Mohana 6, Shakir Hamzah 6.5, Hafiz Abu Sujad 7, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 6.5 (Christopher van Huizen 75) 7.5, Izzdin Shafiq 7.5, Safuwan Baharudin 8.5, Faris Ramli 7, Sahil Suhaimi 7.5 (Sufian Anuar 83), Khairul Amri 5.5 (Khairul Nizam 73)
TERENGGANU: Sharbinee Ramli, Muhaimin Omar, Vincent Bikana, Hasmizan Kamarodin, Zubir Azim, Issey Nakajima, Ahmad Nordin, Ismail Faruqi (Nasril Izzat 78), Gustavo Lopez, Ashari Samsudin (Zairo Anuar 66), Paulo Rangel (Sharin Sapien 59).
SHOTS: LionsXII 4 on target, 11 off target; Terengganu 4 on target, 2 off target
CORNERS: LionsXII 4; Terengganu 2
YELLOW CARDS: LionsXII 3 (Nazrul, Madhu, Izzdin); Terengganu 0
OFFSIDES: LionsXII 3; Terengganu 0
POSSESSION: LionsXII 50 per cent; Terengganu 50 per cent
REFEREE: Wan Tarmizi Ibrahim 6/10
MATCH RATING: 8.5/10
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH:
SAFUWAN BAHARUDIN (No. 21)
He is in the form of his life, with four goals in three Malaysia Cup matches, all of which he was the best player on the pitch. From the stands, Safuwan looks like a stick insect, but soars like a salmon, takes all the hard knocks like a man, and scores like a player and a half. Most good teams have a talisman and LionsXII 2015 seem to have found themselves one in Safuwan.
SAFUWAN’S GOALS THIS YEAR
MELBOURNE CITY: 2 goals (1 header) in the A-League
LIONSXII: 5 goals (3 headers) in the Malaysian Super League, 4 goals (all headers) in the Malaysia Cup
SINGAPORE: 2 goals (1 header) against Cambodia
Johor DT II v Kedah
Perak 0 ATM 2
Sarawak v Johor DT
Selangor 0 Felda 0
T-Team 3 Kelantan 1
PDRM v PKNS
Penang 4 Pahang 1