Fandi holds the FA Cup without superstition
Fandi unfazed by superstition as he embraces trophy before the big battle
MALAYSIAN FA CUP FINAL
KELANTAN v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV CH 112/205 & 76.25mhz)
It is a well-known superstition for footballers - never touch a trophy before kick-off, for fear of ending up on the losing end.
In 2012, Bayern Munich midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk committed the cardinal sin ahead of the Champions League final, and Chelsea beat the German giants 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time.
This perhaps explains the awkward situation Kelantan and the LionsXII were in at the Malaysian FA Cup final press conference at the Bukit Jalil Stadium yesterday afternoon.
When the photographers and videographers urged the coaches and captains of both teams to pose for a picture with the trophy, Kelantan captain Badhri Radzi and LionsXII skipper Izwan Mahbud wore stiff smiles and backed off.
Kelantan coach Azraai Khor Abdullah, known to wear his lucky pink shirt in cup finals, which he has won in six out of seven outings, looked resigned as he was made to hold one end of the 60cm-tall FA Cup.
In stark contrast, a beaming LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad flashed his charming smile as he held the other end.
"Don't worry," said the 52-year-old. "We hold it now, we'll take it home tomorrow."
While Fandi accepted the underdogs tag - the LionsXII have no imports, while Kelantan will field four - he must be quietly confident after seeing his side show plenty of grit to beat a strong Terengganu side on away goals after the two-legged semi-final ended 4-4 on aggregate.
The LionsXII put on a dominant performance at Jalan Besar in the first leg, when they overran the Turtles, and should have won by a bigger margin than the final score of 2-1.
In the second leg, they allowed Terengganu to enjoy the lion's share of possession, but effectively hit on the counter to score two crucial away goals.
Fandi told The New Paper: "I want the boys to play more like the first leg.
"The best defence starts from attack. Press the opponents high and then drop off, then do it again. We must put Kelantan under pressure.
"They have fast wingers in Wan Zack Haikal (Wan Noor) and Wan Zaharulnizam (Zakaria). We must contain them, and not allow any space for their strikers, especially the Nigerian (Iwuji Amamchi) who scored two goals in the last game (against Pahang).
"We must also brush up on our set-piece defending. They have big foreigners who will cause problems but, thankfully, we have Safuwan (Baharudin) and Khairul (Nizam) back to help us in aerial challenges."
In their six FA Cup matches so far, the LionsXII have scored 16 goals via nine different scorers, from defenders, midfielders and strikers.
"Yes, that's one strength we have. Everyone chips in, we can score from anywhere," said Fandi.
Winger Gabriel Quak echoed his coach's sentiments, and added: "Finals don't come by easily. It's now or never. We will give everything we got for every minute we are on the pitch.
"People remember only the winners of the final, so we must make sure we are the ones who are remembered."
Fandi and his players are looking for their first cup win in LionsXII colours, and the coach is careful not to put too much pressure on his charges, especially since they have a rather dismal record of just one win and six losses in seven clashes against Kelantan.
"The boys will not be reading the newspapers. I just want them to focus. Let me handle all the pressure off the pitch, and the players should just concentrate on what happens on it," he said.
"So what if our past record is not good? We will overcome that tomorrow. We will make it happen."
On the other hand, Azraai is not about to be lulled into complacency by Kelantan's superior head-to-head record.
"Don't be fooled by the (LionsXII's) underdogs tag," said the 62-year-old.
"They have fantastic teamwork and the LionsXII have players who will form the future of the Singapore national team, and we cannot underestimate them.
"We will respect them, but we will not take things for granted."
"Now that we are the last Malaysian team standing and we are taking on a Singaporean side, a lot of pride is at stake," he added.
"In a way, we are representing every Malaysian team, so we want to keep the FA Cup in Malaysia."
PROBABLE LIONSXII LINE-UP:
- Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Gabriel Quak, Safuwan Baharudin, Izzdin Shafiq, Faris Ramli, Khairul Amri, Khairul Nizam.
Go, LionsXII, go
Another final, a different role but the same feeling.
As the battle-hardened Fandi Ahmad embarks on yet another key showdown - but as a coach this time - his burning ambition is the same: To win.
Twenty-one years ago, at the Shah Alam Stadium outside Kuala Lumpur, he captained Singapore to a majestic 4-0 triumph over Pahang in the Malaysia Cup final.
Tonight, it's another Malaysian competition (Malaysian FA Cup), another east coast team (Kelantan).
Back in 1994, he played in a star-studded, match-winning line-up - Abbas Saad, Malek Awab, Jang Jung, David Lee, Kadir Yahaya, Nazri Nasir, et al.
Tonight, he has a team with a sprinkling of youngsters, such as Gabriel Quak and Nazrul Nazari, the likes of whom, he says, could suffer from nerves in the early stages of the final.
So, unlike in 1994, the LionsXII go into this crunch match as slight underdogs, having safely negotiated a relatively easy ride to the semi-finals.
But if the two-legged semi-final triumph over Terengganu is any indication, the LionsXII have - like their predecessors of 1994 - the fighting spirit.
And the inner desire to raise their game to win.
Just before the team left Changi Airport on Thursday afternoon for Kuala Lumpur, Fandi said: "The players are raring to go.
"They have semangat (Malay for spirit) in them. And they have pledged to give of their best.
"But my one fear is that many of them have not played - save for the semi-finals - in front of big crowds.
"Bukit Jalil could have about 90,000 spectators, mostly from Kelantan. And this could affect my younger players. I hope stage fright would not deter them."
Therefore, he is counting on seasoned players such as Safuwan Baharudin and Izwan Mahbud to lead the youngsters by example.
Cup finals are normally one-off encounters. So is tonight's match.
And there have been upsets galore, as has been seen in the English FA Cup finals, with Sunderland over Leeds (1973), Southampton over Manchester United (1976) and Wimbledon over Liverpool (1988), all by 1-0 margins.
So this is where the LionsXII can draw inspiration and encouragement.
One wonder strike could clinch it.
Fandi will not ask his team to sit back and absorb, but to go for an early goal. An initial high line is what he plans for.
Sounds logical, when you know that you have two strikers in the Khairul step-brothers - Amri and Nizam - who have the ability and temerity to find the net early.
The LionsXII defence has stood up to some severe tests.
Oh, how they withstood Terengganu's all-out second-half attack in Kuala Terengganu!
At Bukit Jalil, Izwan, Safuwan, Madhu Mohana and Izzdin Shafiq would definitely be called on to hold firm.
The Singapore outfit have all to play for.
And little to lose, as they have already performed beyond expectations.
Strengthened by the return of a quartet of SEA Games players, most notably winger Faris Ramli, they must believe that victory is possible.
A win tonight will give Singapore football a much-needed boost.
And the timing could not have been better, with the South-east Asia (SEA) Games just a couple of weeks away.
So a sport anticipates and a nation awaits.
Kelantan FA president: Play for pride, not money
Kelantan FA president Tan Sri Annuar Musa is known for being generous whenever his team deliver trophies.
While that's no difference for tonight's Malaysian FA Cup final, the 59-year-old urged the Red Warriors to play for pride and honour, and not just monetary rewards.
In 2012, he handed out RM200,000 ($74,000) to his players for making the Malaysia Cup final, and then awarded each a plot of land valued between RM60,000 and RM80,000 after they beat ATM FA 3-2 in the final after extra time.
Annuar said: "Of course, along with our kind sponsors, we will give the players a special bonus. Good rewards will definitely come with good results. But we don't want the players to be thinking only about money.
"It will be a hard fight against the LionsXII because even though they have no imports, they have done well to make the final with great teamwork."
- DAVID LEE