No place to hide
Fandi: No more excuses as MSL champions look to keep title hopes alive
Fight for the fans.
Fight for the title.
Fight for your future.
With eight games to go and a 10-point gap to Malaysian Super League (MSL) leaders Selangor, the LionsXII know any slip-up against Terengganu tonight will spell the end of their title defence.
And coach Fandi Ahmad wants his players to know that if they don’t give it their all at the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium, they could well be playing their last match for the team.
It has been a roller-coaster season for the LionsXII, who have produced stirring victories over Selangor (2-1) and second-placed Pahang (4-1), but also shown a frustrating inability to string more than two wins together.
Eighth in the MSL with a game in hand, the Singaporean side can leapfrog the Turtles into fourth spot with a win tonight, depending on results elsewhere.
Speaking to The New Paper here yesterday, Fandi said: “In our hearts, we want to defend the title, but that is impossible unless we start winning matches.
“Our target is still to finish in the top three, but the next three matches (against Terengganu, Johor Darul Ta’zim and ATM FA) will decide if we still stand a chance of winning the league.
“In some games, some players don’t show up. I want to see every player out there hungry to play from now on.
“We have given enough chances to some players... and from now on, if they don’t perform, they will have to sit on the bench.
“If they don’t meet our expectations, they may not be in this team next season.
“This is the reality. We can be patient with the young players, but there comes a time where we have to make a decision and judge who can make it at this level and who cannot.
“We cannot call this team a developmental team anymore. The players have to prove themselves now.”
National centre back Baihakki Khaizan, back in the LionsXII fold after terminating his contract with JDT, agreed with his coach.
Said the 30-year-old: “Most of the players are now 22 to 25, many have played in this league for more than one year.
“This is no longer a developmental team. We are now a proper team and a proper product. The players must be professional and take responsibility.
“We have to go out there and give it our all because this is our job. The younger ones have to start showing what they are capable of because they are the same ones who are going to defend our Suzuki Cup title and bring Singapore football to the next level.
“There are still eight more games and the league is open. The leaders frequently change, so if we keep winning, we still have a chance to win the league.”
The LionsXII can at least be buoyed by the fact that tickets to their next home game, against JDT on Tuesday, have been sold out just a day after being released.
Naturally, Fandi was appreciative, but warned against taking the solid fan support for granted.
Said the 51-year-old: “The fans have been absolutely great. They have been with us through thick and thin, when we win and even when we don’t.
“We need to build on their support to get our winning momentum back and repay their faith in us.
“We must remember we are not just playing for ourselves, but also for everyone who is supporting us. This shouldn’t be pressure, this should be a big motivation.”
- Probable LionsXII starting line-up: Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Baihakki Khaizan, Afiq Yunos, Shakir Hamzah, Gabriel Quak, Raihan Rahman, Zulfahmi Arifin, Safuwan Baharudin, Faris Ramli, Khairul Amri