The LIONSXII theme song

Pahang sink LionsXII in 2014 MSL opener

Pahang sink LionsXII in 2014 MSL opener

Pahang FA 1-0 LionsXII

(Matias Conti 57’)

By Kenneth Tan

KUANTAN, Malaysia, 17 January 2014 : The LionsXII failed to get their 2014 Malaysian Super League (MSL) off to a winning start after a 1-0 loss to Pahang FA on Friday night.

A solitary goal from Pahang forward Matias Conti in the second half proved enough to sink the Singaporeans in front of almost 40,000 fans at the Darul Makmur Stadium.

Boosted by home ground advantage, the home side went for the jugular right from the start with Nigerian forward Dickson Nwakaeme forcing an opening on the left byline. His shot from a tight angle was then well smothered by Izwan Mahbud.

They had another couple of opportunities within the first 15 minutes which just about missed the mark, before Nwakaeme was forced due to a hamstring injury.

The LionsXII had a superb opportunity to take the lead on 7 minutes after Khairul Amri squeezed his way down the left, but Sufian Anuar’s resulting shot was cleared off the line by Zesh Rehman.

Pahang continued to push forward in numbers, but the Singaporeans’ defence stood firm to repel the attacks.

The closest the hosts came to scoring was a close-range shot by Azamuddin Akil, which was well-saved by Izwan.

LionsXII’s soak-and-strike strategy seemed to serve them well on the night, as they created a number of opportunities on the break.

Amri’s left-footed shot just failed to beat Pahang keeper Khairul Azhan at his near post, Gabriel Quak’s right-wing cross nearly caused chaos inside the six-yard box, while Sufian’s volley from a tight angle cleared the bar.

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad opted to bring on Faris Ramli for Quak at the break, and the 21-year-old proved to be a livewire in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

They had a couple of opportunities to take the lead but Sufian and Safuwan Baharudin both fired over from Zulfahmi Arifin’s deadball deliveries.

They would live to rue those misses as Pahang soon found the breakthrough.

There was a warning sign on 54 minutes when Izwan denied Conti from point-blank range with a superb instinctive block, but the LionsXII failed to heed that as they conceded the opening goal three minutes later.

Shakir Hamzah succumbed possession of the ball in defence with an unfortunate slip, leading to Azammuddin being played through on goal. Despite Izwan getting a hand to the latter’s effort, he was unable to stop Conti from slotting home the rebound inside the six-yard box.

Nazrul Nazari was soon summoned from the bench to replace Khairul Amri, and the 22-year-old could have equalized matters on 69 minutes if he had a better connection from Faris’s cross.

The energetic Aqhari Abdullah also came on for captain Isa Halim with 10 minutes to go, with Safuwan pushing up to join the attack.

However they could not do much to breach the rock-solid Pahang centre-back pairing of Damion Stewart and Zesh Rehman.

Debutant Afiq Yunos had to clear off the line on 82 minutes from Conti’s effort, but it was not enough to prevent the LionsXII from slipping to defeat in their first game of their 2014 MSL campaign.

Fandi: We fought very hard tonight

Despite the obvious disappointment of defeat in his first competitive game in charge of LionsXII, Fandi opted to look at the positives from the game.

“We fought very hard tonight,” he said at the post-match press conference.

“Izwan was magnificent and we’re creating a lot of opportunities. We could have buried at least two of them.”

The 51-year-old also pleaded for the patience of the fans as the team aims to improve as the season goes along.

“I hope the fans understand this,” he said.

“It wasn’t easy to come here and I’m sure any other team will struggle here. Pahang played very well and have very strong centre-backs. We struggled with high balls and credit to them for that.

For some of the boys, it’s their first time playing such a big game and they took 20 to 25 minutes to settle down. It was a really good atmosphere tonight for them to experience.”

Meanwhile his opposite counterpart Ronald Smith was pleased to have gotten victory out of such a tight game.

“I’m just pleased that we won this game,” he said.

“We got the break and we managed to score.

There were not many chances created from both sides, it was a little bit of a dogfight to be honest. Also the wind and the greasy surface made life really difficult.”

He also shared his views on the LionsXII’s display.

“I think they played some decent football in switching the play,” he assessed.

“Also they were always dangerous on set-pieces. I think it’s just that their players needed more dribbling and taking on players in one-on-one situations.”

The LionsXII’s next fixture will see them take on Malaysian Premier League side KL DRB-Hicom FC in the first round of the Malaysian FA Cup.

It will be played at Bishan Stadium on next Tuesday, 21st January, at 7.45pm.

Do come down to support the boys as they strive to come back from this defeat!