The LIONSXII theme song

Safuwan showstopper keeps LionsXII hopes alive

Safuwan showstopper keeps LionsXII hopes alive

LionsXII 2-1 Perak FA

(Hariss Harun 62′, Safuwan Baharudin 85′) (Noor Hazrul 66′)

SINGAPORE, 31 August 2013: It was a game which they just could not afford to lose.

They had to fight and scrap for every ball, eventually the LionsXII managed to secure the all-important three points with a last-gasp 2-1 win over Perak FA in front of 7,016 fans.

After Hariss Harun’s opener was quickly cancelled out by Noor Hazrul’s freekick, it was left to Safuwan Baharudin to steal the headlines with his superb lobbed finish five minutes before the end.

After a crushing 1-0 defeat against the same opponent days ago, coach V Sundrammorthy made three changes to his starting eleven – bringing in Gabriel Quak and Faris Ramli on the flanks, while restoring Fazrul Nawaz as the lone forward in his 4-2-3-1 formation.

Those switches had minimal impact in the first half though. Despite being on the upper hand for long periods, they were unable to trouble Farizal Marlias in the Perak goal.

Surprise start Quak found himself at the end of two excellent opportunities, but fired wide on both occasions.

Safuwan was next as he headed over twice from close range, while Shakir Hamzah saw his looping header well collected by Farizal.

For the limited forays Perak made into the LionsXII half, they were the more threatening side.

S Chanturu’s superb run through the middle on 6 minutes created space for himself to unleash a left-footed grounder just outside the box, with Izwan just about managing to tip onto the post.

Captain Shahrul Nizam saw his effort well-blocked by Baihakki Khaizan, while defender Rafael Souza headed Noor Hazrul’s freekick into the arms of Izwan.

Sundram reacted by bringing on Zulfahmi Arifin for Aqhari Abdullah at half time, and that switch invigorated the LionsXII play.

The 21-year-old was the heart of everything good – spreading a superb ball for Quak to cross into the box which Fazrul failed to capitalize while delivering a cross well for Hariss who saw his header just kept out by Farizal.

It was no surprise he was the one who delivered the incisive ball for the much-awaited opening goal for the LionsXII on 62 minutes.

After a superb breakaway move by Perak which saw Paulo Rangel’s shot parried and Chanturu’s effort smothered by Izwan, the Singaporeans went on the other end and nearly scored with Fazrul just missing the crucial contact on Faris’s cross.

The Perak defence thought they had done enough, but they were left stunned by a superb deep ball from Zulfahmi which evaded everyone in their box except Hariss who leaped and nodded superbly beyond the despairing dive of Farizal.

However the joy of that goal was short-lived as Perak briefly drew level.

Conceding a freekick 30 yards from goal, they were duly punished as Noor Hazrul curled a splendid effort over their defensive wall which Izwan got a touch to but could not keep out.

With the match edging towards the final 15 minutes, Sundram knew he had to go for broke to save the LionsXII’s Malaysia Cup campaign.

Nazrul Nazari and Khairul Nizam soon came on for the tiring Faris Ramli and Fazrul respectively, as they surged forward to look for the winner.

They had a mighty scare on 79 minutes when Rangel’s header from a long ball was spilled by Izwan as the ball looked to cross the goalline before returning into the custodian’s grateful grasp.

The Perak no. 9 appealed for a goal but his appeals were waved away by the officials.

That lucky escape paved the way for a grand finish five minutes before the end.

Izwan’s long punt forward found Safuwan who strode into the box after bringing down the ball with two touches.

With a couple of defenders on his back and Farizal closing in, the converted forward showed nerves of steel by coolly lobbing the leather over the stranded custodian.

The goal naturally sent the home fans wild as Perak was unable to mount a second comeback.

Substitute Asyraf Sahizah’s close-range header landed just wide of Izwan’s goal as the final whistle soon sounded to signal the LionsXII’s first win in their 2013 Malaysia Cup campaign.

Sundram: My luck changed at last

At the post-match press conference, Sundram cut a relieved figure as his side lifted themselves into third position in Group D with four points.

“My luck changed, at last!” he smiled.

“We have been very unlucky in the last three games and it started from that last-minute draw against Kedah (FA). Morale was admittedly down and we really needed this win.”

His boys’ unwavering spirit and Zulfahmi’s impact after coming on was a couple of things which he was particularly delighted about.

“For me they really tried their best tonight,” he said.

“I can see that they wanted to win this game badly and eventually we got something to put ourselves back in the running for the quarter-finals.

Zul came on and made a number of good passes. He’s a player with great potential. I believe if he stays focused, he can become an even better player.”

Last but not least, he also gave special mention to the fans who came down to support his boys.

“I really have to say this – Even though we’re at bottom of the table, the fans still came down to fill the stadium. Credit has to be given to them.”

Meanwhile opposite counterpart Azraai Khor lamented the ‘lapse of concentration’ which contributed to the late goal which sank his side.

“This is football – you win some, you lose some,” he said.

“Both teams had equal chances, it’s just we conceded in the dying minutes. However I’m still satisfied with my team’s overall commitment as we’re playing against the league champions.”

Losing the opportunity to cement qualification from the group, the 60-year-old believes that the two quarter-final slots are still up for grabs.

“The group’s still very open,” he said.

“LionsXII opened up their chances with this win, while we will need to beat Kedah next to secure qualification.”

The Cup will now take a two-week break before resuming in the third week of September.

The LionsXII’s next game will see them take on Sarawak FA on Wednesday, 18th September at the Jalan Besar Stadium. Do continue to come down to the Jalan Besar Stadium to support the boys as they aim to keep their dreams of winning the Malaysia Cup alive!