The LIONSXII theme song

Gabriel aims to continue scoring

Gabriel aims to continue scoring

The 23-year-old is on the search for more after scoring his first-ever goal for the LionsXII

By Kenneth Tan

SINGAPORE, 25 January 2014: At last, a goal for the LionsXII.

2013 was a peculiar year for Gabriel Quak, who scored twice for the national team but failed to hit any at club level. For a player who prides himself on speedy wing play and creating space in the box, that was not good enough.

New LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad threw down the gauntlet in pre-season, handing Gabriel a five-goal target to reach in 2014. It was a challenge which he accepted with both hands, and he has since achieved one-fifth of the quota.

It might have been a tap-in which brought his first-ever goal for the club, but the type of goal matters little to the 23-year-old winger.

“I’m definitely relieved to score,” Gabriel told the official LionsXII website before the team’s final training session on Friday evening.

“Last year, I didn’t manage to score at club level. It could partly be due to the fact that I didn’t play as often. However, I must give credit to (former) coach Sundram for  giving me chances (to play). But that’s all in the past, and coach Fandi has set a target for me now.

I hope not only to hit the target, but also to do better. Thus, I’m happy that the goal came so early in the season: it gives me more confidence and I just want to build on this. I want to make scoring a habit, and to be a goal-scoring midfielder.”

Having plied most of his trade on the left side of attack, coaches are starting to see the benefit of putting the left-footed Gabriel on the opposite flank.

That was most exemplified in Singapore’s 2-1 defeat of Syria last October in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualification match, where he came on as a sub at that position and duly scored within seconds of his introduction.

The man himself admitted that he is relishing such a role, having scored three times last season in non-competitive matches when deployed there.

“Indeed it’s different for me,” he said. “It was only until recently under (national coach) Bernd (Stange) that I started playing on the right. Over there, I drift infield more and there’s a better chance of scoring.”

From the looks of the game against KL DRB-Hicom the last time out, things are slowly but surely falling in place for the LionsXII; especially the fact that the three-pronged attack of Gabriel, Sufian Anuar and Faris Ramli looks menacing every time they go forward.

Gabriel is pleased at witnessing how things are progressing although he is keen to keep his feet on the ground.

“No disrespect to the opponents that day, we’re the much better team,” he said.

“The confidence is there but we shouldn’t get carried away. That said, a win is a win and we moved on into the second round (of the FA Cup). Coach Fandi was also glad that the three of them got a goal each.

“It’s also pleasing to see players returning from injury; (Khairul) Amri made the bench that day despite his groin strain, while Madhu (Mohana) and Raihan (Rahman) are coming in. Also Shahfiq (Ghani) is recovering well.

“It’s good that Coach now has a good selection problem and we cannot take our places in the team for granted.”

The mood was pretty much a total contrast from how he felt after the opening-day defeat to Pahang FA last Friday. The effervescent winger did get a start but was hauled off at the half-time break – something which he admitted left him desolate.

“Frankly, I was feeling very down after that game,” he shared.

“I had a good pre-season and was looking forward to it, but I was subbed out after 45 minutes. I just felt I should have been given another 10 minutes in the second half; no players like to be replaced early. But I respect coach Fandi’s decision.

There were mixed reviews about my performance; some people felt I was anonymous while some say most of the first half’s attacks came through me. However, it’s all over now and I have to get over it.”

Fortunately for Quak and the rest of the team, the presence of coach Fandi managed to lift the team’s spirits thereafter.

“He brings the positive aura with him and that spreads to the team,” shared the midfielder.

“After that defeat, we were really down and the dressing room was really quiet. The core of the team from last year is still around and we’re not really used to losing.

However, Coach came in and told us we did well and it was a game which could have gone either way. It’s just good to see his positivity in training.”

Having claimed their first win of the season four days ago, the LionsXII will return to Malaysian Super League (MSL) action tonight, and their task will not come any easier.

Selangor FA is a traditional rival, as well as last season’s runners-up. Despite losing a number of key players, they have brought in good replacements, with the likes of Indonesian Andik Vermansyah, Juninho and Paulo Rangel, who fans and players alike remember starred for Perak last season.

However, Gabriel is confident that his side can grind out a result.

“Selangor have strengthened their squad in terms of the attacking aspect,” he assessed.

“But we had a team meeting on Thursday where we watched videos of them. We know the way to defend them, and we just have to execute the plan. Defence is definitely the key to this game.”

A defeat will mean the LionsXII collect zero points from their opening two MSL matches – something which had never happened in the two previous campaigns.

Gabriel has vowed to do his best to prevent that scenario from happening, but has called on the fans to get behind the team regardless of Saturday night’s result.

“There’s definitely more expectations for us this year,” he said.

“The first year was our debut season and we did not too bad (in finishing second), while the second year we had a younger squad in which there were not many expectations.

This year, it’s a really new LionsXII team (although we won the league last year) and we have to bounce back after losing the first game. I know the fans want results, but I hope they can be patient and we’ll try to win on Saturday.”

The game against Selangor FA will kick-off at 7.45pm tonight at Jalan Besar Stadium. Tickets for the game are still available via TicketBooth.

Do come down and support the boys as they aim to bounce back from their opening-day defeat!