The LIONSXII theme song

LionsXII crash out of FA Cup

LionsXII crash out of FA Cup

By Kenneth Tan

LionsXII 1-2 Pahang FA
(Safuwan Baharudin 86’) (Hafiz Kamal 51’, Azidan Sairudin 55’)

SINGAPORE, 1 February 2014: It was a case of déjà vu for the LionsXII as they fell to a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Pahang FA in the second round of the 2014 Malaysia FA Cup.

Having lost to the reigning Malaysia Cup champions in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) season opener just two weeks ago, it was a chance for the Singaporean side to exact some sort of revenge in this tie. However two goals in quick succession after the break proved to be too much for the LionsXII to overcome despite a spirited fight back.

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad made a change to his starting eleven against Johor Darul Ta’zim the last time out – with Nazrul Nazari coming in for Sufian Anuar. That meant Hafiz Sujad was deployed just behind Khairul Amri in attack.
With the speedy pair of Nazrul and Faris Ramli running down the wings, the home side created plenty of opportunities in the first half via corners and free-kicks.

Safuwan Baharudin and Khairul Amri nearly turned home Zulfahmi’s deliveries, while the latter lashed a speculative shot from open play which caught Pahang keeper Khairul Azhan cold. Amri and Afiq Yunos also had headed opportunities thereafter which they failed to take. Meanwhile Pahang created a couple of chances via rapid counter-attacks which forced LionsXII keeper Izwan Mahbud into action.

A superb double save on 19 minutes saw him deny Fauzi Roslan on a one-on-one and Matias Conti’s headed follow-up, and he replicated the feat 14 minutes later by blocking Azamuddin Azil’s angled drive and Conti’s follow-up.
The MSL champions could have gone ahead at the stroke of half time after a superb move involving Zulfahmi and Faritz Hameed down the right, but Amri’s resulting volley came agonisingly off the post.

After a goalless first half, the visitors came out strongly and duly stung LionsXII with two goals in four minutes.
First it was Hafiz Kamal who curled a superb left-footed effort past Izwan from the edge of the box after Zulfahmi brought down Azidan Sairudin. Then Azidan curled a superb first-time shot from a similar range after Conti had worked his way through via the right.

That stunning setback stung coach Fandi into a couple of tactical changes as he brought on Madhu Mohana and Sufian for Zulfahmi and Nazrul respectively.
Sufian nearly made an immediate impact when he found himself at the end of a Hafiz cutback, but he was only able to prod it over.

Gabriel Quak was then brought on for Captain Isa Halim and the last 20 minutes belonged to the LionsXII.
Sufian saw his close-range header plucked out by Khairul, while Safuwan’s header from Shakir’s excellent cross was whacked off the line by Damion Stewart. Gabriel then fired over from Safuwan’s cutback from the left.
Hopes of a comeback were diminishing until the 86th minute when Faris was brought down by Azidan 30 yards from goal.
Safuwan, now donning the captain’s armband, lashed a terrific effort which went off the post and into the net off Khairul’s head.

The LionsXII kept surging forward with the majority of the 6,188 fans kept at the edge of their seats. However despite the four minutes of injury time, they were unable to find that elusive equaliser. Amri found himself at the end of excellent crosses from Gabriel and Faritz, but was unable to put both on target. That means Pahang progress to the last eight of the competition at the LionsXII’s expense.

Fandi: It’s not always about winning

At the post-match press conference, Pahang coach Ronald Smith admitted he was ‘glad’ when the final whistle went off. “We’ve been stressing to the players for the last few days that they’re in for a torrid time tonight,” he shared. “I’m pleased with the result, but half-pleased with the performance; we scored two goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half and I was hoping we don’t go back into our shell which exactly happened. We lost control of the game.”

The 64-year-old only had good things to share when prompted on the LionsXII’s performance. “They did extremely well,” he said. “They’re the best organized team which I’ve seen in this competition. They kept their composure even though things were getting a bit desperate towards the end.”

Meanwhile opposite counterpart Fandi lauded his side’s performance despite the defeat.
“Our boys fought till the end,” he said. “I had the confidence that we have the time to equalize.
We did bombard them for the last 20 minutes but Lady Luck was not with us today. The boys gave their all – that’s the way we should play and it’s not always about winning. We showed teamwork and courage which is good for a young side like us.”

Gracious in defeat, the 51-year-old gave credit to the Pahang defence for keeping his side at bay.
“Their defence was very compact,” he mused. “I told the boys to dribble and cut the ball across but they had almost 9 men in the box; the Twin Towers (Zesh Rehman and Stewart) was very hard to get past. Only a team like Arsenal can break them down!”

Majority of the LionsXII boys will now gather for the National Team’s centralized training ahead of next Tuesday’s 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Jordan.

The LionsXII’s next assignment will see them face off against Terengganu FA at home and the match will be played on next Saturday, February 8th at 7.45pm.

Do continue to come down to support the boys in their MSL campaign!