By Kenneth Tan
LionsXII 2-1 Selangor FA
(Shakir Hamzah 44’, Khairul Amri 90’ + 5) (Fitri Shazwan 58’)
SINGAPORE, 25 January 2014: The LionsXII got their first victory of the 2014 Malaysian Super League (MSL) season after a last-gasp 2-1 win over traditional rivals Selangor FA at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday evening.
In a game of three headed goals, Shakir nodded LionsXII ahead just before the break before Fitri Shazwan levelled matters for the visitors early in the second half. It looked like both teams were going to share the spoils before Khairul Amri popped up with the winner deep into injury time.
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad restored Gabriel Quak and Amri into the starting eleven as they lined up in a conventional 4-4-2 formation.
However the reigning MSL champions found themselves pinned back inside their own half for the first 15 minutes.
Deployed as the lone frontman, Selangor’s Brazilian striker Paulo Rangel proved a nuisance to the LionsXII defence. After seeing a freekick come off the wall, he then volleyed just wide of the post from Fitri Shazwan’s left-wing cross.
After a nervy start, the LionsXII duly settled in and strung together a couple of good passing movements together.
Faritz Hameed was working hard to link up play with Gabriel on the right, while Sufian constantly dropped deep to support Hafiz on the opposite flank.
LionsXII’s first shot of goal eventually came just after the half hour mark when Amri’s long-range stinger went straight down Selangor keeper Farizal Marlias’s throat.
The 28-year-old had another shot on goal on 39 minutes, as he curled one just over after striker partner Sufian Anuar’s handy knock-down.
They were starting to make inroads into the Selangor box, with Hafiz Sujad seeing his close-range shot coming off the bar after Gabriel’s through ball.
Their persistence eventually paid off a minute before the break as Shakir Hamzah rose the highest at the far post to head home Zulfahmi Arifin’s corner with aplomb.
That was the perfect way to end the half as they came out of the dressing room looking to build on that lead.
However it was not as smooth-sailing as they has imagined, with Selangor constantly whipping in crosses to find the head of hitman Rangel.
Safuwan Baharudin had to make a couple of crucial challenges but he was unable to stop the Red Giants from levelling matters just before the hour mark.
A precise outswinging delivery from Junior Aparecido picked out the diminutive Fitri who flexed his neck muscles superbly to direct the ball over Izwan’s despairing reach.
That stung the LionsXII into action with coach Fandi bringing on Faris Ramli for Sufian. The electric Faris filled in just behind Amri, with his direct runs causing panic for the Selangor defence.
Zulfahmi then saw his grasscutter being tipped wide by Farizal before being replaced by Madhu Mohana. Meanwhile, Shahfiq Ghani also came on for the tiring Gabriel.
As a result, Safuwan was pushed into midfield as the LionsXII surged forward in search of the winner.
Faris saw his shot from range smothered by Farizal, while Hafiz fired disappointingly over from the edge of the box. Time looked to be running out for the LionsXII until Faris forced a corner after a superb jinking run into the box four minutes into injury time.
Shahfiq’s resulting corner managed to pick out a brave Amri who produced a thumping header which left Farizal rooted in the Selangor goal.
It was a goal which sent the majority of the 6,108 present fans wild, as the final whistle soon sounded to signal all three points for the LionsXII.
Fandi: We beat them due to sheer determination
At the post-match press conference, Selangor coach Mehmed Durakovic admitted the defeat was a hard one to swallow.
“I thought we fought well and gave everything we had,” he said.
“We played some fantastic football down the left side, but the two goals were conceded from set pieces – one just before half time, one on the 95th minute. It’s (This defeat) very hard to take.”
Meanwhile opposite counterpart Fandi lavished praise on the perseverance that his boys showed to get the late winner.
“I thought we showed determination, discipline and character,” said the 51-year-old.
“They showed their superb teamwork; everybody was on their toes and we pushed on till the end. It was a very fast game and Selangor is a very good footballing team.
Technically they’re more superior, but we won because of our sheer determination and fighting spirit. We wanted these three points badly, and we played with the desire (to win). Thus, I’ll like to congratulate the boys and the fans which came down here.”
The former national striker admitted he had to gamble on his team tactics toward the end of the game.
“Generally we’re still in pre-season mode,” he explained. “We only had two weeks of pre-season, thus our fitness levels were struggling a bit towards the end.
Sufian gave so much in the last few games and was really flat out, Amri is still not 100% but I was determined not to sub him out; I have the confidence that he will score because he looked sharp in training.
I also had to gamble on Shahfiq who is not even 50% but he sent in a very good cross for the winner. Also they (Selangor) was playing for a draw towards the end thus I have to gamble by pushing Safuwan forward.”
The LionsXII will have no time to rest on their laurels as they will face the title favorites Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) away in Larkin four days later.
Buoyed by this victory, Fandi wants his side to go there with no fear.
“It’s a huge morale booster tonight, given that JDT is waiting for us,” he said.
“It’s going to be a different atmosphere in front of 30 to 35 thousand fans. I hope the boys won’t shiver; we have to go out there with a focused mind. It’s important that we go there with the courage and belief that we can win.”
The away game against JDT will kick off at 8.45pm on Tuesday, January 28th and fans can catch the game ‘LIVE’ via Starhub Channel 201 from 8.30pm onwards.
Do check back on the LionsXII’s website and Facebook page for the latest updates regarding the game.
Season tickets will remain on sale until 8 February, so go grab yours now! Season tickets can be purchased from the ticketbooth website, any of the 12 Ticketbooth outlets, or AXS machines islandwide.
Go LionsXII Go!