LionsXII in for a tough, tiring week
Fatigue a big factor as LionsXII face two away matches
ATM FA v LIONSXII
(Today, 10pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz
Morale in the LionsXII camp is high but energy levels are dropping.
So, even as coach Fandi Ahmad declared his intention to take all three points in tonight's Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash with second-from-bottom ATM FA at the Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium in Paroi, he is also aware of the need to freshen his team up.
On Friday, they will have another tough away MSL match, against third-placed PDRM FA at the Shah Alam Stadium.
It was just three days ago that the LionsXII beat ATM 3-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
So, as fatigue hits some players, Fandi told The New Paper yesterday: "Ideally, we want full points from both games, but we know away games can be very difficult.
"We want to collect full points from this game against ATM, especially, because I'm expecting an even tougher game on Friday."
Fandi said he will make "at least" two changes to the 11 who started on Saturday, hinting he could leave stars Khairul Amri and Faris Ramli on the bench.
Striker Amri was one of nine LionsXII players who played their hearts out in a goalless World Cup qualifier against Japan at the Saitama Stadium in Tokyo last Tuesday, while winger Faris, along with defender Shakir Hamzah and striker Sahil Suhaimi, featured in the Singapore Under-23 team's recent ill-fated SEA Games campaign.
Fandi warned his players to be wary of an ATM backlash.
"They are slipping down the table so they will definitely give us a tough fight, and they won't want to lose two in a row.
"We also have to be careful because they will have their two foreigners (defender Obinna Nwaneri and striker Abdelafees Salam) back from suspension."
If other results go their way tonight, a win in Paroi could send the LionsXII, MSL champions in 2013, up to third.
But Fandi insists he and his players are not bothered about looking at the table.
With exactly half the season gone, top on his agenda is securing a top-10 finish to qualify for the Malaysia Cup tournament, something which the team only did on the last day of last season's MSL.
He added he was pleased to have U-23 players Shahfiq Ghani, Shakir, Safirul Sulaiman and Al-Qaasimy Rahman join from the Courts Young Lions in the mid-season transfer window.
"We're not even looking at the table right now," said Fandi.
"We just want to pick up points and qualify for the Malaysia Cup as early as we can, not struggle like last season.
"I'm very happy with the options we have in this second half of the season, and I think we can rotate the players around a bit."
- Johor Darul Ta'zim v Terengganu
- Pahang v PDRM FA
- Perak v Sarawak
- Selangor v Felda
- Sime Darby v Kelantan
Shahdan: My goal was like a fairytale
DREAM GOAL: Shahdan Sulaiman (No. 15) being hugged by teammate Sahil Suhaimi after scoring against ATM FA on Saturday. ST FILE PHOTO
Seven months ago, Shahdan Sulaiman wondered if his professional career was over.
During the Suzuki Cup on Nov 26, the midfield star fractured his fibula and dislocated his ankle after an accidental collision with teammate Khairul Amri during the Lions' 4-2 win over Myanmar.
The horrific injury required surgery to insert eight screws into Shahdan's right leg and left him on crutches for seven weeks, doubting whether he could return the same player.
On Saturday night, he blew away any lingering doubts by scoring a fine goal in the LionsXII's 3-1 Malaysian Super League win over ATM FA at the Jalan Besar Stadium with his first and second competitive touches this season.
Just three minutes after coming on as an 80th-minute substitute for Khairul Nizam, Shahdan darted between two ATM defenders to chest down Safuwan Baharudin's headed flick-on and volley with his left foot into the corner of the goal.
"The feeling I had after scoring is indescribable," Shahdan told The New Paper yesterday.
"Seeing that ball trickle in off the upright was one of the happiest moments of my career.
"Getting to play was already great but scoring with my first two touches was like a fairytale."
Shahdan, who was with the LionsXII in 2012 but moved to S.League club Tampines Rovers for the last two seasons, had previously come on as a late substitute in the 2-1 win over Sime Darby on May 2, but did not touch the ball.
Even though he is now a seasoned professional, having made his S.League debut in 2006 aged 18 and boasting 42 international caps, he admitted to having a sleepless night before the ATM game.
"I was feeling jittery and anxious after I was named in the matchday squad," he said sheepishly.
"It felt like I was preparing for the first game of my career."
While Shahdan feels he is ready to compete for a place in the LionsXII's starting 11, coach Fandi Ahmad is cautious about handing his "asset" too much football, too soon.
"I'm very happy for Shahdan he managed to score, but we will not rush him," said Fandi.
"We must look after him because he is an asset to the team.
"At the moment, we will try to give him 15 or 20 minutes each game."
For the moment, Shahdan is just happy to be back on the pitch.
He said: "I have to thank my wife Suzielya and my family for being there at the lowest point of my career.
"I also have to thank my surgeon, Dr S Krishnamoorthy, my gym trainer Matthew Jones (Football Association of Singapore strength and conditioning coach) and Kak Fizah (LionsXII physio Nurhafizah Sujad) for all their efforts during my rehab process.
"And also the FAS for keeping me on board with the LionsXII even with such a serious injury."