The LIONSXII theme song

Isa eyes silverware via FA Cup run

Isa eyes silverware via FA Cup run

The LionsXII skipper (centre, jersey number 4) is setting his sights on reaching the final of the competition

By Kenneth Tan

SINGAPORE, 21 January 2014: Kick-starting the season with a defeat is never ideal for any team with title aspirations.

The LionsXII fell to a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Pahang FA on Friday night in the 2014 Malaysian Super League (MSL) opener, with Isa Halim putting up a valiant display in the middle of the park for a good 80 minutes before being substituted.

The disappointment in the newly-appointed LionsXII skipper was evident when he spoke to the official LionsXII website at the Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Airport in Kuantan shortly before flying back to Singapore on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s never easy playing away,” he shared.

“I knew what to expect especially in a full-house stadium. Pahang (FA) were really motivated with their home support, in fact I thought they oversell the tickets – that’s how motivated they are to win the game.

With the game doubling up as the Piala Sumbangsih (Malaysian Charity Shield), they went out with all guns blazing from the first whistle. We managed to hold our ground in the first 45 minutes but we conceded a very soft goal in the second half. We did create chances and if we had scored, the game could have turned out differently. Overall, I’m still proud of my players.”

The 27-year-old is keen to put this painful memory behind him as his side gears up for the Malaysia FA Cup tie against Malaysian Premier League (MPL) side KL DRB-Hicom FC on Tuesday night.

“Of course we’re disappointed with the loss, but that’s football,” he said defiantly.

“We need to learn from this and move forward, especially with this upcoming game being played as a knockout game. It’s very important to get ourselves together; to be mentally prepared and physically fit.

We also have games against Selangor and JDT (Johor Darul Ta’zim) coming up in a short space of time, so we have to take one game at a time. If we can win this game, it will definitely be a morale booster in preparation for the game against Selangor.”

Despite their strong performances in the MSL and Malaysia Cup over the past two years, the LionsXII’s achievements in the Malaysia FA Cup pale in comparison

Having been denied a spot in the semi-finals in their inaugural season by Terengganu FA, the Singaporean side fell out at the first hurdle in 2013 after a shock 1-0 loss to Selangor PKNS.

With the final of the competition traditionally played in June, it provides new gaffer Fandi Ahmad and the LionsXII an early chance for silverware. Largely aware of that fact, captain Isa urges his side to putting a winning run together this time round to achieve that dream.

“There’s something strange about the FA Cup,” he mused.

“The lower-ranked teams somehow are able to get the better of better-ranked teams. Our past two seasons in the FA Cup have not been good experiences, but I hope this season we can get something out of this (FA Cup campaign). To be realistic, the Cup is a shorter journey for us to win something thus we’re definitely eyeing a chance to go to the final.”

Tuesday’s opponent, DRB-Hicom FC, represents something of an unknown quantity. Thus Isa is keen to take the tie in a professional manner.

“We had no idea how they play, to be honest,” he admitted.

“However coach Fandi has since prompted us on their strengths and weaknesses. One thing for sure which I know is, every Malaysian team is out there to beat us regardless of which division they are in. They will definitely give us a good fight, that’s where we need to stay focused and not be over-confident.”

With the tie being scheduled at Bishan Stadium, it represents the LionsXII’s first home game away from their famed Jalan Besar fortress. Despite many fans lamenting that fact, Isa is relishing the opportunity to return to the place where he called home from 2009 to 2011.

“I played there for three seasons, I still remember,” he shared.

“It was a very good feeling for me while I’m playing there for Home United. We had very strong home support.

Although we’re not playing at Jalan Besar this time round, we still have to keep our strong home record intact. We’re going to have the full support of the fans and we definitely do not want to disappoint them.”

With three games to be played in the next seven days, he also hopes that budding starlets like Ignatius Ang and Samuel Benjamin can be given the nod on Tuesday night.

“The team selection is up to coach Fandi,” he said.

“Rotation is a must for us, given the tight run of games coming up. Players have to be kept fresh and we need to give other players a chance. This game is the best chance to experience a bit.

I have to say the new players have worked very hard and showed the desire so far. I’m sure whoever gets the chance, they will take it with both hands.”

The game against KL DRB-Hicom FC will kick-off at 7.45pm tonight at Bishan Stadium. Tickets for the game are still available via TicketBooth.

Do come down and support the boys as they strive to do well in the FA Cup!