LionsXII toothless again
FELDA UNITED 0
If the LionsXII continue to play with a lack of creativity and a cutting edge up front, they can forget about meeting their coach's target of reaching the semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup.
Just one fluid move and just one shot on target were all the Singapore side could muster in 90 minutes against a disciplined Felda United, who could have stolen all three points if not for Izwan Mahbud's point-blank save from Makeche Ndumba in the 70th minute last night, in their opening Group A encounter at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Coach Fandi Ahmad, skipper of the 1994 Singapore side that won the league and Malaysia Cup double, may well be able to point to the lack of training time together over the last six weeks, after the majority of his players were called up for the national team's tour of Austria and an Under-23 friendly in Bahrain, as the reason for the ringrust.
But the worrying fact is his team seem to have picked up from where they left off in a disappointing Malaysian Super League season, where they won twice, drew once and lost six of their last nine games.
They finished eighth out of 12 teams, a far cry from last year's triumphant league campaign, which they incidentally sealed with a 4-0 win over Felda.
Post-match, Fandi did not mince his words last night when asked if the LionsXII would struggle to even progress from the group, which also includes defending champions Pahang and Johor Darul Ta'zim II, who feature Singapore captain Shahril Ishak in their ranks.
Said the 52-year-old: "Definitely. We didn't start the game well, we were scrappy and the understanding wasn't there. We should be collecting full points at home, but we had very few chances. Even then, Gabriel (Quak) and Khairul (Amri) should have scored.
"It's not easy if the team are not training together for some time, but we will continue to work on it and try to improve on our finishing."
Quak could have opened the scoring in the 45th minute after a fine cross from Shakir Hamzah but, with just the goalkeeper to beat, the winger fired wide.
Substitute Nazrul Ahmad Nazari threatened to make an instant impact after coming on for Quak when he fed Shahfiq Ghani with a pass from the right, only for the forward to shoot tamely at goalkeeper Farizal Harun for the LionsXII's only shot on target in the 67th minute.
In the dying minutes, centre back Safuwan Baharudin was pushed up and it almost paid dividends.
Displaying the chemistry that was frustratingly lacking throughout the match, Izwan's long goal kick was nodded on by Safuwan to Amri, who fed substitute Faris Ramli down the left.
The winger returned the favour, but Amri screwed his shot agonisingly wide of the far post in injury time.
Felda coach Irfan Bakti Abu Salim, formerly with Selangor, got it spot-on when he said of the LionsXII: "They were just not together. When my teams played them in the past, they would attack with five or six players.
"Tonight, it seemed like No. 4 (Isa Halim) and No. 23 (Zulfahmi Arifin) were not involved. Only the flankers and Amri and Shahfiq were involved. In this aspect, the LionsXII were much better last year."
The one positive for the LionsXII was an airtight defence that kept the dangerous Zah Rahan Krangar and Edward Wilson at bay.
But goals at the other end were what turned Fandi and the class of '94 into heroes, and if their lowest home crowd of the season of 4,199 fans is anything to go by, the LionsXII need to find their mojo.
- LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 7, Madhu Mohana 7, Baihakki Khaizan 7, Safuwan Baharudin 7.5, Shakir Hamzah 7.5, Gabriel Quak 6 (Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 64) 6, Isa Halim 6, Zulfahmi Arifin 6 (Aqhari Abdullah 88), Hafiz Abu Sujad 6 (Faris Ramli 52) 6.5, Shahfiq Ghani 6, Khairul Amri 6
- FELDA UNITED: Farizal Harun, Khairul Ismail, Shahrulnizam Mustapa, Zah Rahan Krangar, Ahmad Syamim (K Thanaraj 66), Shukor Adan, Raimi Noor (Indra Putra Mahayuddin 57), Aizulridzwan Razali, Edward Wilson, Makeche Ndumba (Syahid Zaidon 83), Hasnizaidi Jamian
- Shots: LionsXII 1 on target, 4 off target, Felda 4 on target, 3 off target
- Corners: LionsXII 6, Felda 6
- Yellow cards: LionsXII 3 (Safuwan Baharudin, Shahfiq Ghani, Madhu Mohana); Felda 1
- Corners: LionsXII 4, Felda 2
- Attendance: 4,199
- Match rating: 5.5/10
- Referee: Wan Tarmizi 7/10
- TNP Man of the Match: Shakir Hamzah
- PAHANG 4 JDT II 0
- JDT 1 KELANTAN 0
- ATM 1 PENANG 1
- PERAK v KEDAH
- SARAWAK v TERENGGANU
- SIME DARBY v PDRM
- T-TEAM v SELANGOR
We didn’t start the game well, we were scrappy and the understanding wasn’t there. We should be collecting full points at home, but we had very few chances.
— LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad