By Kenneth Tan
LionsXII 0-0 Terengganu FA
SINGAPORE, 8 February 2014: There was no love lost at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night after the LionsXII was held to a goalless draw against Terengganu FA in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash.
Despite dominating the majority of the game, a lack of cutting edge upfront saw the MSL champions continually frustrated by the visitors as they had to settle for a point for the night.
There were a couple of changes from last Saturday’s starting eleven against Pahang FA. Shahfiq Ghani came in for his first start of the season while Gabriel Quak got the nod ahead of Nazrul Nazari for the right-wing spot.
The early signs were good for the LionsXII as they piled on the pressure on the Terengganu goal. Hafiz Sujad and Gabriel showed good penetration down the flanks and earned numerous fouls in the process, while Shahfiq constantly tried to link up play between his attackers.
The latter could have opened the scoring as early as the third minute, but his close-range shot went straight to Terengganu keeper Sharbinee Allawee.
Amri then nodded over from Safuwan Baharudin’s cross, before captain Isa Halim wasted a gilt-edged opportunity to put his side ahead after failing to get a clean shot away in a one-on-one situation.
There was another good opportunity on 23 minutes after Shahfiq had released Gabriel with a precise slide-rule pass, but the latter’s shot was excellently clawed out by Sharbinee at his near post.
The visitors settled in midway through and duly made a number of excellent inroads which had the LionsXII’s defence on tenterhooks.
Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud had to get his hands on long shots from Ashari Samsudin and Mario Karlovic, before rushing out of his goal to clear the danger after Safuwan had slipped up from a Terengganu attack.
Coach Fandi went for a tactical change at half time, bringing on the livewire Faris Ramli for Zulfahmi Arifin as Hafiz was shifted to the middle to pair up with Isa.
That switch created more impetus in the LionsXII’s attack as they began to launch ball after ball into the Terengganu box.
Faris was a constant threat; winning a free-kick near the edge of the box which Shahfiq curled just wide, before a superb run down the by-line led to the ball ricocheting off Khairul Amri before coming back off the post.
Meanwhile Terengganu was happy to sit back and wait for counter-attacks, with the centre-back pairing of Vincent Bikana and Ahmad Azlan clearing everything in sight.
Ashari saw a snapshot tipped wide by Izwan, while Karlovic and Ismail Faruqi thumped over their efforts from close range.
Nazrul was soon thrown on for the ineffectual Gabriel but there continued to be little joy finding inroads into the visitors’ defence.
Hafiz and Shahfiq lashed long-range efforts over, while Amri saw an ambitious overhead kick go into the arms of Sharbinee.
The best chance fell to Shahfiq four minutes before the end of regulation time after yet another superb Faris run down the left, but the 21-year-old could only see his right-footed volley go agonisingly past the post.
In the end, Izwan had to stretch to palm away a Zairo Anuar free-kick on 89 minutes to preserve the point for the LionsXII.
Fandi: We have a lot of work to do
At the post-match press conference, Terengganu coach Abdul Rahman Ibrahim lauded his charges for carrying out his game plan.
“The LionsXII played well and dominated, but they fell into our trap,” he remarked. “We played this game tactically right; Every time our team loses the ball, we come back and form a solid nine-man wall.
In the first half, they were off-rhythm and don’t know what to do. In the second half, they tried to press us in the first 10 to minutes and missed a few half-chances that destroyed their spirit.
After that, tiredness crept into their game and although they changed their wingers, we’re already prepared with our touch-and-go game. Thus they could not capitalize on some of our errors.”
Meanwhile coach Fandi lamented the ‘lack of killer instinct’ upfront for the LionsXII.
“We’re very disappointed with ourselves,” he said. “We thought this game was there for the taking and had three good chances in the first half which we should have buried.
Defensively we were okay, Terengganu did not have good open chances but they did well to stick to their soak-and-counter game plan. But our finishing is disappointing and the penetrative pass was not there tonight.” With five points from four league games so far this season, the 51-year-old admitted there is a lot of fine-tuning to be done for his side in the upcoming weeks.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We create open chances in every game which we did not put away; the passing is aimless at times and the final pass is not good enough. We need to play as a unit.”
The LionsXII’s next MSL game will see them face off against ATM FA away at Stadium Majlis Perbandaran Selayang and the match will be played on next Saturday, February 15th at 8.45pm.
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. Go LionsXII Go!