Written by: Shawn Lim
The LionsXII will have to overturn a three-goal deficit in the second-leg of their Malaysia Cup quarter-final tie against Pahang FA after they went down 4-1 to the defending champions in the first leg on Tuesday night.
Even though the LionsXII put up a tough battle, goals from Hafiz Kamal, Matias Conti, Dickson Nwakaeme and substitute R.Gopinathan ensured that the Elephants ran out comfortable winners at Darul Makmur Stadium.
Safuwan Baharudin pulled a goal back for the visitors in second-half stoppage time, but Fandi Ahmad’s charges will need to find their scoring boots in the return fixture at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday.
Pahang made a bright start, pressing and harrying the LionsXII from the off and were awarded a free-kick in the sixth minute, which Hafiz duly converted.
The LionsXII gradually built momentum after suffering the early setback, but found the Elephants’ defence too tough to break down.
Sahil Suhaimi had an opportunity to help the LionsXII level proceedings in the 30th minute, but his piledriver from just outside the 18-yard box failed to trouble Pahang custodian Khairul Azhan.
Faris Ramli was next to come close in first-half stoppage time after bringing down a long ball at the far post and firing a powerful shot at goal, but Khairul got down well to turn the ball out for a corner.
The hosts emerged from the break energised and dangerous as they searched for a second goal, but found Izwan Mahbud in their way when the LionsXII custodian pulled off a brilliant point-blank save to tip away Conti’s powerful header in the 52nd minute.
However, Izwan was unable to stop the Argentinean two minutes later when a slip by Shakir Hamzah in the box allowed an unmarked Conti to slam the ball home from close range to double his side’s lead.
The Elephants were on the ascendancy after finding their second goal and quickly added a third just five minutes later when Nwakaeme’s fierce drive took a wicked deflection and landed in the back of the net.
The woodwork then came to the LionsXII’s rescue in the 66th minute when Gopinathan tried his luck after cutting in from the left flank.
There was no denying Gopinathan from getting his goal however, after the winger was put through on goal by Azamuddin and calmly slotted the ball past Izwan in the 67th minute.
Safuwan gave the LionsXII a lifeline when Zulfahmi Arifin’s long ball found the unmarked 24-year-old, who beat Khairul to the ball and sent his header into the back of the net for an away goal as the final whistle arrived shortly after.
LionsXII: Izwan Mahbud (C) (GK), Madhu Mohana, Hafiz Sujad, Faritz Hameed, Nazrul Nazari, Faris Ramli, Safuwan Baharudin, Zulfahmi Arifin, Sufian Anuar (Shahdan Sulaiman 61’), Sahil Suhaimi (Firdaus Kasman 73’), Shakir Hamzah.