LionsXII confident of win despite hiccups
They trained earlier this week with just two goalkeepers and nine outfield players, among whom one sat out injured.
The LionsXII have not had the most ideal preparation ahead of the Malaysia Cup campaign that kicks off on Wednesday, but assistant coach Nazri Nasir believes his charges can and must win their opening Group A home fixture against Felda United, who finished second in the second-tier Malaysian Premier League.
"It is very important that we start with a win. It's a vital for confidence and will set the tone for the competition," Nazri told The New Paper yesterday.
"But, more important than that, we need to prove ourselves after not doing well in the Malaysian Super League (MSL), and a win will restore belief in our fans, and show our other opponents - Johor Darul Ta'zim and Pahang - that the past is past, this is a cup competition, and we mean business."
After winning the MSL title in 2013, the LionsXII stumbled this season, finishing eighth, four points above the relegation zone.
The LionsXII have several players who were also part of the Singapore national team that spent 17 days in Austria last month, and then came together again for a trip to Bahrain as a modified Under-23 side gunning for a spot at the Incheon Asian Games next month.
Despite not spending much time together as a team after the MSL season ended in June, Nazri believes his charges have got what it takes to turn things around in the Malaysia Cup.
And the former Singapore captain believes the key factor leading up to the Felda game is confidence.
"Some of the boys have played plenty of football matches this past month, and we will need to keep them fresh. But I'm not too worried because the players know each other well, and we have a game plan." said the 43-year-old Nazri.
"Right now, it's not about pushing them too hard, it is all about spirit and confidence - that's what we're focusing on."
Nazri and head coach Fandi Ahmad have more than just fatigue to deal with - they also have to contend with injury issues and National Service commitments, with the goalkeeping department the biggest worry.
Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud did not travel to Bahrain despite being named in the squad due to a niggly hamstring problem.
With second-choice goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid involved in a road accident and is likely to miss the entire group stage of the Malaysia Cup because of injuries, and reserve custodian Abdul Qadir still a full-time National Serviceman, the situation could require some drastic action.
Said Nazri: "We may have to de-register Khai from this tournament, and draft in another goalkeeper from the Courts Young Lions. We will discuss with the management and come to a decision soon."
While forward Sufian Anuar was a goalkeeper in his days as a national youth player, Nazri said that at the moment "he is not a goalkeeping option".
The headache does not stop there.
Faris Ramli, arguably the LionsXII's most effective attacking player this season, is struggling with a muscle strain, as is right fullback Faritz Hameed.
"It hasn't been ideal, but we just have to make sure in the next few days, we make the most of our training sessions, so that the boys know our game plan," said Nazri.
"Felda will not be easy opponents, but this is a game we can win if we give everything on the pitch.
"For that, the boys must show confidence and unity."