LionsXII to take the game to Pahang
LionsXII coach sticks to same approach in successful FA Cup run
QUARTER-FINAL, 1ST LEG
PAHANG v LIONSXII
(StarHub TV Ch 112/205, 76.25MHz, 8.30pm)
If he was bothered by the shoddy treatment, then he certainly kept it well hidden.
Fandi Ahmad's LionsXII were allocated the Padang MPK pitch to train on here yesterday, 24 hours before the first leg of their Malaysia Cup quarter-final clash with defending champions Pahang.
As a result of the rainy season, neither side were able to train at the match stadium and had to make do with public pitches instead.
The Singapore outfit had to share the bumpy field with dozens of amateurs and kids having their own kickabout sessions.
Maybe Fandi was feeling only the positive vibes, being back in the city where he helped Pahang win the double of M-League and Malaysia Cup in 1992, but the 53-year-old wanted to talk only about tonight's match at the Darulmakmur Stadium, saying his side will go for broke.
Reserves Sufian Anuar and Sahil Suhaimi are the only two fit strikers in his squad, and Fandi revealed they will both start.
SAHIL, SUFIAN START
"We will start with two strikers because we want to keep their centre backs busy," Fandi told The New Paper.
"If we play with just one striker, one of Pahang's centre backs, Damion Stewart or Zesh Rehman, will be free to put more pressure on us.
"We want to be the ones applying the pressure, so we will start with Sufian and Sahil."
"We are all happy for Sufian when he scored (in the last group game against Terengganu) because he is always willing to fight for the team and is good at holding up play.
"I hope this gives him more confidence to get more goals for us," the LionsXII coach added.
"Sahil is contributing more in terms of his work rate now.
"We would like to see him attack the opponents' box more because we know he is capable of doing damage inside and outside the area.
"We don't have superstar strikers like Pahang's Dickson (Nwakaeme) or Matias (Conti) but, with good teamwork and concentration, we can beat any team in Malaysia."
Chief striker Khairul Amri (nine goals in all competitions) is out with a hamstring injury, while his brother Khairul Nizam (five) is not 100 per cent fit and can only make the bench.
Sufian put in a timely man-of-the-match performance at a rain-soaked encounter in Terengganu on Nov 4, scoring his first goal of the season and setting up another for Christopher van Huizen for a 2-1 win.
The 28-year-old is fondly remembered for grabbing a 16-minute hat-trick in a 4-1 home win over the Elephants in the Malaysian Super League last year.
He also scored in the LionsXII's only triumph in Kuantan in five attempts, a 2-1 win in the Malaysia Cup group stage last year.
Meanwhile, Sahil remains the only LionsXII player to have scored in the Malaysian Super League, FA Cup and Malaysia Cup this season.
Fandi's adventurous approach has paid dividends over the last two seasons, yielding a 34.4 per cent win rate on the road, better than his predecessor V Sundramoorthy's record of 30.6 per cent.
Under Fandi, the LionsXII have excelled in their ability to score on their travels, notching 42 goals in 32 away games, compared to 34 in 26 games under Sundram.
Away goals will come into play if the scores are level in the Malaysia Cup knockout rounds and Fandi believes they should not be cautious at this stage.
He said: "We want to be more adventurous and attack-minded even if we are playing away because this approach helped us win the FA Cup.
"Even with Izzdin (Shafiq) suspended, we should have Zulfahmi (Arifin) ready in midfield, and he adds to our set-piece threat.
"The boys have learnt and understood better what their individual roles and duties are. Against Pahang, we must score goals and defend well.
"I'm confident we can go all the way if the players adopt a positive and confident approach."
While the training conditions were hardly ideal yesterday, Sahil, like his coach, was not too bothered.
The 23-year-old said: "Even when the rain came pouring down at Terengganu in the last match, we were ready. We put on our four-by-twos and got the away win.
"The Pahang defenders are really strong but we have shown we can find ways to beat them and I'm confident we can do it again."
“If we play with just one striker, one of Pahang’s centre backs, Damion Stewart or Zesh Rehman, will be free to put more pressure on us. We want to be the ones applying the pressure.”
— LionsXii coach Fandi Ahmad explaining why he will start with two strikers
TONIGHT'S OTHER Q-FINAL, 1ST LEGS
- Felda v Johor Darul Ta'zim
- Kedah v PKNS FC
- Sarawak v Selangor