Written By: Shawn Lim
When Shahdan Sulaiman laced up his boots to start against Kelantan FA last Saturday, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad was convinced the missing piece in his midfield puzzle would be solved that night.
So it proved, as the 27-year-old not only produced a tireless performance in a free role, but also provided an assist for Faris Ramli against the Red Warriors as the LionsXII ran out 3-1 winners.
With Shahdan finally returning to form and full fitness after recovering from the horrific ankle injury that he sustained in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup last year, Fandi believed he now has a formidable squad on his hands.
“He (Shahdan) is the fulcrum of the triangle we have been waiting for because he provides a lot of penetrative passes from midfield and his final touch sets up goals most of the time,” said Fandi.
“We have been trying to play this style of football since last year and we finally managed to do it against Kelantan.
“This is definitely the type of football we will be playing from now on – A lot interchanging of passes and positions, overlapping on the flanks and a lot of short and diagonal passes.
“The most important thing is the combination of play between our players. Their understanding is getting better and they have reached the level where they are playing the best football of their career now.
“I have told my players that we have to stay at this level because we can beat any team in the league with the kind of football that we are playing.”
Despite his confidence in his team, Fandi warned that their next game against Perak FA at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday will be a different proposition compared to the one against Kelantan.
The Bos Gaurus are sitting in third spot in the Malaysian Super League and are currently on a three-match winning run.
Perak also possess one of the deadliest strike-force in the league, having scored 26 goals in 14 league games so far. South Korean forward Namkung Woong (eight goals) and Brazilian Charles Souza Chad (nine goals) have accounted for a total of 17 goals between them.
“Perak are a different team because they are a hard running team with young players and foreign players who are very mobile and aggressive like Namkung Woong and Charles Souza Chad, “ said Fandi.
“They must focus on the winning mentality because we have good teamwork and our team spirit is very high now.”
Fandi will be looking to his own strikers to secure a win for the LionsXII on Wednesday. Victory might see the seventh-placed club go as high up as to fifth spot. The LionsXII are currently two points behind fifth-placed Felda United, who have 22 points.
LionsXII striker Khairul Amri will be coming into the game brimming with confidence, especially after he broke his eight-game goal drought in the Malaysian Super League with a well-taken strike against Kelantan.
“It was a big relief to score again after not finding the net for the past eight games,” said Amri.
“I felt the pressure every time I missed an opportunity to score, but that’s football for you. You can’t expect to score with every chance you have.
“For me, if I miss the chance to score, I will tell myself I have to do better the next time. The most important thing is that I try to stay positive during training and when playing in matches.”