By Kenneth Tan
Selangor FA 1-0 LionsXII (Steve Pantelidis 24’)
SHAH Alam, Selangor, Malaysia, 19 April 2014: The LionsXII’s inconsistent form in the 2014 Malaysian Super League (MSL) continued as they went down 1-0 to Selangor FA at Stadium Shah Alam on Saturday night. A solitary goal from Selangor defender-converted-midfielder Steve Pantelidis was enough to condemn the defending MSL champions to a fifth defeat of the season.
LionsXII Coach Fandi Ahmad continued his experimental ways in this game as he opted for a 4-1-4-1 formation. Hafiz Sujad was pulled back to the left side of defence with Shakir Hamzah shifting into the middle to partner Afiq Yunos. Meanwhile Captain Safuwan Baharudin lined up in midfield alongside Aqhari Abdullah. With Khairul Amri shifted to left midfield, Sufian Anuar was deployed alone upfront.
While the formation ensured the team stayed compact to stifle Selangor’s strong strike force, there was little attacking joy for the Singaporeans in the first half-hour. Apart from collecting a feeble Faris Ramli shot, Selangor keeper Farizal Marlias had little to do in goal. There was an opportunity for Safuwan via a 25-yard free kick, but the LionsXII skipper could only find the side netting with his powerful attempt. Buoyed by home ground advantage, Selangor was evidently the more confident side. S Kunanlan created an excellent opening just mere seconds into the game after cutting inside Hafiz, but was only able to thump over.
Meanwhile forward Thamil Arasu’s lung-bursting run into the box was halted by a superb last-ditch tackle by Afiq. Thus there was little surprise that the hosts opened the scoring midway through the first half. After earning a corner off Afiq, Brazilian hotshot Paulo Rangel flicked on Andik Vermansyah’s resulting corner into the path of an unmarked Pantelidis. The big Australian was left with the simplest of tasks to direct his header past a stranded Izwan Mahbud. Rangel could have scored himself minutes later but was only able to lash wide after yet another superb Kunanlan run into the attacking third.
After weathering the early storm, the LionsXII finished the half the stronger side with Amri having a good sight from just outside the box. Coach Fandi decided to switch things around again after the break by bringing on Zulfahmi Arifin for Aqhari. Meanwhile Hafiz was pushed up in an attempt to add more bite to the midfield.
However those changes did not have the desired impact as the Red Giants continued their relentless attacks on the LionsXII’s goal. Izwan had to claw out a superb Rangel header before Thamil Arasu tapped over from close range from Kunanlan’s cross. The gaffer decided to use up his final two substitutions by bringing on Nazrul Nazari and Firdaus Kasman for Hafiz and Sufian respectively. As a result, Safuwan and Amri were pushed upfront.
However the Singaporeans were continually frustrated in their quest to grab the all-important equalizer. Led by Captain Bunyamin Umar, the Selangor defence stood strong to repel almost every aerial ball that came their way. Apart from another Safuwan free kick that went wide, Farizal led a charmed life in the Selangor goal. On the other hand, Izwan had to be alert to tip another Pantelidis header wide. However the custodian was unable to prevent the LionsXII from slipping to another disappointing defeat.
Fandi: We played below-par tonight
At the post-match press conference, Coach Fandi lamented the error-strewn display that his boys had put up. “We played below-par tonight,” he said. “We don’t deserve to win because we didn’t create enough chances. Also we made a lot of mistakes, especially concentration-wise for the corner (that led to the goal). We showed them the videos how good Selangor are at set pieces with their tall players, but we just lost focus.”
With the MSL now going into a three-week break, the 51-year-old hopes to reinvigorate his charges through a short training trip to Myanmar. “It’s good that now we have a little break,” he said. “We can build up our defence especially on set-piece situations. We’ll go to Myanmar to play two friendly games.”
Meanwhile opposite counterpart Mehmet Durakovic saluted the manner his charges recovered from their AFC Cup exit just days earlier. “I’m very happy that we bounced back,” he said. “We took 11 hours to come back from Indonesia and we have a small squad, but the players never gave up. They gave everything tonight and were so tired; this is the Selangor that I want.”
On a side note, the Australian backed Coach Fandi to galvanise the LionsXII after this setback. “It’s not easy for Fandi because this is a new team,” he explained. “It’s the same for me when I took over (at Selangor) and it takes time to know the players. I think he has players who will fight and stay committed.”
The LionsXII will next take on Johor Darul Ta’zim in their next MSL game and it will be played at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday, May 10th at 7.45pm. Do check back on the LionsXII’s website and Facebook page for further updates regarding the game. Go LionsXII go!