Defenders Madhu and Zulfahmi talk about the final
Defenders Madhu Mohana and Zulfahmi Arifin have been instrumental in the LionsXII's charge into the Malaysian FA Cup final. They speak to SHAMIR OSMAN ahead of tomorrow's clash with Kelantan
What are your thoughts ahead of the team's first cup final appearance?
Madhu: Kelantan are a very tough team, especially when they play at home. We've never beaten them in Kota Baru in four years.
The only way for us to beat them on Saturday, is to work together and cover one another for 90 minutes.
Desire is the key. That is one thing we showed in our last game against Terengganu.
There's a lot of pressure, but coach Fandi (Ahmad) has said many times that we should not put pressure on ourselves.
It worked for us in the semi-finals. Now, we have to put the crowd and the cup aside, and just play like we normally do.
Zulfahmi: A lot of people don't think we can win but, as a team, we are a lot more united than we were before. It won't be easy to break us.
People don't see that we actually have quite a lot of individual quality in the team.
We've got Safuwan Baharudin, Khairul Amri, Izzdin Shafiq, even Madhu, Gabriel Quak and Faris Ramli who have matured a lot.
How has your defensive partnership been?
Zulfahmi: I can't say that I like playing in defence, but it's a sacrifice for the team. In midfield, where I am more familiar with, I could take more risks because the defence usually covers for us. Now, I have to improve defensively, go in harder for tackles and not take risks.
But Madhu and I encourage and talk to each other a lot.
Madhu: Zul wasn't my partner from pre-season, as I was initially playing with Afiq (Yunos), but we've had seven or eight games together now and I think we're doing okay. Our playing styles actually complement each other, and the more we play the better our understanding will become.
Zul likes to step up to challenge opponents, and I prefer to stay behind, as the covering defender, and our complementary styles have been especially useful against the big foreign forwards.
Do you see a cup victory as the perfect answer to the doubters?
Zulfahmi: The criticism really affected me quite a lot last year. Some things people said were true, but some things were said out of hatred.
The coach told me to listen to the constructive criticism, and ignore the rest. I think I've managed that.
Madhu: We're human, so of course we feel hurt when we see or hear criticism but, for me, I just want to put it aside and prove the haters wrong.
Zulfahmi: If we win, it will mean a lot to me. I was on the bench when we won the 2012 Suzuki Cup and in 2013, when we won the Malaysian Super League title, I was often in the stands.
But, this season I've played a lot, and we have worked hard. If we win, it will be my first real title, so it's extra special.
Madhu, like Zul, you are starting to establish yourself as a regular fixture in the team. Will it be just as special for you?
Madhu: I can't say that it's more special because I've been playing more. Everyone is a part of the team, and contributed whether he was on the bench or came in as a substitute.
But the FA Cup will feel more special (than the MSL win) because it's a knock-out tournament, and we have to play each game like it's our last. Make a mistake and you're out.
What will be the key to victory?
Zulfahmi: If we stay focused throughout the game, we can do it. Our team unity will make the difference.
Madhu: Whoever has more desire will win. We've already shown that we have it. We must stay united and communicate effectively.