LionsXII go through fire and rain to book q-final berth against Pahang
Fandi's men dig deep and book quarter-final clash with reigning Cup champions Pahang
REPORTING FROM KUALA TERENGGANU
(Diyaul Rahman 15)
(Sufian Anuar 16, Christopher van Huizen 89)
At one stage last night, Safuwan Baharudin bent down and used his arms to try and sweep a puddle clear at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium.
Referee Syed Azhar had halted the Malaysia Cup Group A fixture against Terengganu in the 61st minute with rain pelting down, but the Singapore international was doing everything he could to get the game back on.
With the score tied at 1-1, the LionsXII were in prime position to qualify for the quarter-finals, but even Safuwan did not know just how good his teammates were at playing on a water-logged pitch.
The LionsXII took to the Terengganu padi field like charged-up bullocks, riding tackles, throwing bodies in the way, standing tall in the face of a barrage of attacks to finish 2-1 victors. It was a result that saw them finish top of the group, ensuring a clash against reigning Cup champions Pahang in the last eight.
The game looked a completely different proposition at the start.
On a dry pitch, star striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha was a constant menace, tormenting a static Zulfahmi Arifin in the opening exchanges, and it was the Malaysian international who crafted Terengganu's opener.
With a deft turn, he again left Zulfahmi grasping at air, this time just inside the Singapore box, before squaring the ball for an unmarked Diyaul Rahman to sweep home in the 15th minute.
The roar from the stands was killed just moments later by substitute Sufian Anuar, whose 16th-minute shot found the corner of the goal, after Terengganu fail to clear their lines.
The forward had come on just six minutes earlier for LionsXII's ace striker Khairul Amri (below), who was a late inclusion in Fandi Ahmad's starting line-up, but suffered yet another hamstring pull.
The injury will be a big blow for Singapore, as he now looks set to miss the Lions' World Cup qualifiers against Japan on Nov 12 and Syria five days later.
Fireworks hurled onto the track threatened to derail the fixture early on, but rain lashing down from the heavens eventually did, with referee Syed Azhar calling both sets off players off the pitch for some 31 minutes.
In the time the players spent milling around on the sidelines, Kedah had rallied from 2-1 down to beat Johor Darul Ta'zim II 4-2 at the Larkin Stadium in the other group encounter.
The stage had been set for Terengganu: win by two goals in the remaining 30 minutes of play and they would leapfrog the LionsXII into the quarter-finals.
But Fandi's charges did not get the memo.
Madhu Mohana turned in a gargantuan performance in defence, along with Safuwan and a battling Sufian, who chased every lost cause.
Even Zulfahmi came good in the rain after a shaky start.
Substitute Christopher van Huizen slid in at the far post to score in the 89th minute after a Sufian shot took a deflection, and it was a goal that broke Terengganu hearts.
"I'm shocked that we could do so well in the rain, but our game plan was not to come here and play beautiful football - that can't be the game plan when you come to Terengganu - we had to do everything we could to qualify," said Safuwan.
"And that's what we did, in the pouring rain."
Fandi was beaming with pride as he stepped off the bench.
"I wanted to see the fire that the boys showed to win the Malaysian FA Cup (in May), and they really showed character," he said, smiling as rain dripped off his wet hair.
"We showed desire and we really deserved it today."
I wanted to see the fire that the boys showed to win the Malaysian FA Cup (in May), and they really showed character.
— LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad
- Shots: Terengganu 6 on target, 4 off target; LionsXII 6 on target, 4 off target
- Corners: Terengganu 6, LionsXII 7
- Yellow cards: Terengganu 1 (Issey Nakajima 84) LionsXII 2 (Sufian Anuar 55, Izzdin Shafiq)
- Offsides: Terengganu 2 LionsXII 1
- Match Rating: 8/10
- Referee: Syed Azhar 6/10
- LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 8, Nazrul Nazari 7, Madhu Mohana 8, Zulfahmi Arifin 7, Shakir Hamzah 7, Izzdin Shafiq 7, Safuwan Baharudin 8, Faris Ramli 7 (Christopher van Huizen 82, 7), Sahil Suhaimi 7 (Raiham Rahman 90), Hafiz Abu Sujad 7, Khairul Amri (Sufian Anuar 10, 8)
- TERENGGANU: Md Sharbinee, Gustavo Lopez, Vincent Bikana, Md Hafizal (Md Shahrin 90), Hasmizan Kamarodin, Zubir Azmi, Ahmad Nordin (Nasril Izzat 56), Ismail Faruqi, Issey Nakajima, Diyaul Rahman (Md Fakhrurazi 62), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH
Sufian Anuar (No. 25) came on in the 10th minute and put in 80 minutes of hard graft. Scored the all-important goal to break momentum, then took shoves, kicks and elbows as he chased every single lost cause. It was his shot that saw the ball fall to Christopher van Huizen for the winner in a tough match that needed firm resolve and big hearts. Out on the field, there were few who matched the size of Sufian's heart.