LionsXII win, but see hopes end
(Dickson Nwakaeme 13)
(Sufian Anuar 52, Madhu Mohana 84)
They did what they had to, but it still wasn't enough for the LionsXII.
Despite a gutsy come-from-behind 2-1 win over Pahang FA at the Darulmakmur Stadium last night - their first at the venue in four visits over the last three years - Fandi Ahmad's charges saw their slim hopes of progressing into the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals dashed by a result elsewhere.
Felda United comfortably beat Johor Darul Ta'zim II 3-1 at the Pasir Gudang Stadium in Johor to book their - and Pahang's - places in the final eight of the tournament.
The LionsXII players were not aware of the Felda result when Madhu Mohana scored the winner in the 84th minute.
This reporter, unfortunately, had to break the bad news to Fandi.
When told of the Felda result, the LionsXII coach did not say anything.
He simply looked up, closed his eyes and heaved a sigh.
Moments later, when his players trooped off the field, all he did was to offer words of congratulations as they jubilantly exchanged high-fives.
He didn't have the heart to break the news to his players.
"Tonight, we proved what we could do," said Fandi later. "We didn't have a good start to the Malaysia Cup and we were mediocre in our home games.
"But this is a big learning experience for the younger boys.
"They really wanted to go through to the next round and did their best, but this is football, I guess."
The LionsXII almost got off to a dream start when Khairul Nizam's acrobatic overhead kick sailed just over the Pahang crossbar in the fourth minute.
The spectacular effort drew gasps around the Darulmakmur Stadium, and set the tone for the rest of the half.
Even after Dickson Nwakaeme put the hosts in front nine minutes later from close range, the LionsXII poured forward and had numerous chances.
Unfortunately, the enterprise and eagerness of forwards Nizam and Sufian Anuar were not matched by the quality of their finishes.
Sufian, though, made amends for a poor miss in the first half by heading home a superb goal seven minutes after the break off Madhu's cross.
The visitors needed goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud to be in top form to deny Pahang a second goal - the pick of his saves coming in the 68th minute when he tipped Nwakaeme's blistering shot destined for the top corner just over.
And, when Madhu ghosted in at the back post to nod home Faris Ramli's free-kick six minutes from time, the players thought Lady Luck was smiling down on them.
Little did they know Felda had led JDT II by three goals as early as the 49th minute, meaning the LionsXII's gallant effort had been in vain.
When asked how he felt, Izwan said: "How am I supposed to feel? A lot of people can see that we were very unlucky throughout the whole Malaysia Cup tournament.
"But we did very well to win tonight and we fought till the very end.
"There's still one more match to go (away at Felda on Tuesday) and we want to do well there, too."
- PAHANG: Nasril Nourdin, Razman Roslan, Damion Stewart, Zesh Rehman (Matias Conti 87), Saiful Nizam (Shahrizan Salleh 74), Faizol Hussain, Azidan Sarudin, Azammuddin Akil, Fauzi Roslan (Jalalludin Jaafar 87), R Gopinathan, Dickson Nwakaeme
- LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 7.5, Madhu Mohana 7, Baihakki Khaizan 5.5, Safuwan Baharudin 6, Hafiz Abu Sujad 5.5, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 6.5 (Gabriel Quak 88), Isa Halim 6, Zulfahmi Arifin 5.5, Faris Ramli 6.5, Sufian Anuar 6.5 (Afiq Yunos 80), Khairul Nizam 6.5 (Syafiq Zainal 65)
- Shots: Pahang 8 on, 6 off; LionsXII 7 on, 10 off
- Corners: Pahang 5, LionsXII 4
- Offsides: Pahang 5, LionsXII 0
- Yellow cards: Pahang 3 (Saiful Nizam, Razman Roslan, R Gopinathan), LionsXII 2 (Madhu Mohana, Baihakki Khaizan)
- Attendance: 25,000
- Referee: Teoh Hee Loon 6/10
- Match rating: 7/10
Man of the Match: Izwan Mahbud (LionsXII)
- Johor DT II 1 Felda 3
- Penang 1 Kelantan 3
- ATM FA 0 Johor DT 1
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