LionsXII are genuine contenders for Malaysia Cup, says Felda coach
League title may be a long shot but Fandi's men are contenders for Malaysia Cup, says Felda coach Irfan
(Zulfahmi Arifin 24, Faris Ramli 45+1)
FELDA UNITED 1
(Indra Putra Mahayuddin 13)
Watch out for the LionsXII Express in the Malaysia Cup.
While Fandi Ahmad's men remain 10 points off the pace in the Malaysian Super League - Pahang hold the almost insurmountable lead with six games left - the Singaporean side's fine form has not gone unnoticed.
After seeing his team lose 2-1 at Jalan Besar Stadium last night despite taking a 13th-minute lead through evergreen Malaysia international Indra Putra Mahayuddin's lob, Felda United coach Irfan Bakti Abu Salim tipped the LionsXII to be one of the top contenders for the end-of-season Malaysia Cup.
The 64-year-old told The New Paper: "The LionsXII are Malaysian FA Cup champions and they must be taken seriously.
SIX HOME WINS IN A ROW
"They are a fully local team, all Singaporeans but, here they are, players like your No. 21 (Safuwan Baharudin), No. 42 (Shakir Hamzah), No. 23 (Zulfahmi Arifin) and No. 6 (Madhu Mohana) outjumping my foreigners.
"They may be locals, but they are playing at a level above us. Seven of them started in Singapore's 0-0 draw against Japan and I was shocked. They have collected many points during the Ramadan period and their morale is so high at the moment."
Indeed, even after conceding an early goal, just like how they did against Perak three weeks ago, the LionsXII fought back with two goals to make it six straight wins on the trot at home, and 11 matches unbeaten at Jalan Besar this year.
Zulfahmi Arifin curled in a delightful free-kick in the 24th minute that left Felda goalkeeper Farizal Harun rooted to the spot.
Putting the SEA Games disappointment behind him, Faris Ramli then sealed maximum points in first-half injury time when he cut in from the right, beat three players and placed a superb left-footed shot in between two defenders and into the left corner.
This was the 22-year-old's sixth league goal of the season as he becomes the LionsXII's top scorer, although a shin injury made him doubtful for Wednesday's away clash against Terengganu.
Fandi was naturally pleased with the result that lifted his team into the top four, which would ensure them top-seed status in the Malaysia Cup, which features four groups of four.
The 53-year-old said: "We are happy, but we looked lethargic early on with some loose marking, ball watching, too many back passes and our inability to finish our chances.
"But we showed character to bounce back and win with two good goals. I thought Shakir had a great game, especially after he moved into central defence and covered the opponent's striker well with his speed and strength.
"Safuwan also showed good energy in both attack and defence.
"We can dream about winning the league but, in truth, we need a miracle to make up 10 points in six games.
"Our main target now must be to finish well to secure our seeding for the Malaysia Cup and do well there too."
- LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 7.5, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 6.5, Madhu Mohana 7.5, Zulfahmi Arifin 7, Shakir Hamzah 8, Izzdin Shafiq 6.5, Safuwan Baharudin 7.5, Shahdan Sulaiman 6 (Gabriel Quak 61) 6, Faris Ramli 7 (Sahil Suhaimi 89), Khairul Amri 6 (Khairul Nizam 30) 6.5, Hafiz Abu Sujad 6.5
- FELDA UNITED: Farizal Harun, Firdaus Fauzi, Sharul Saad, Bojan, Miladinovic, Adib Aizuddin Abdul Latiff, Ferris Denial (Abdul Rashid Aya 76), Shukor Adan (Fauzan Dzulkifli 46), Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Shahrulnizam Mustaffa 83), Christie Jayaseelan, Zah Rahan Krangar, Makeche Ndumba
BLOW BY BLOW
13 Min: GOAL! LionsXII 0 Felda 1. The home defence gets caught square and a ball over the top finds Indra Putra Mahayuddin, who lobs Izwan Mahbud for the opener.
24 Min: GOAL! LionsXII 1 Felda 1. Khairul Amri earns a free-kick at the edge of the penalty box and Zulfahmi Arifin steps up to curl the ball into the top left-hand corner.
45 +1 Min: GOAL! LionsXII 2 Felda 1. Faris Ramli cuts in from the right and hits a sweet shot between two defenders for what would be the winning goal.
50 Min: Another inch-perfect ball from Indra Putra finds Christie Jayaseelan but the winger's shot is superbly blocked by Izwan.
74 Min: Hafiz Sujad sends in a beautiful cross from the left to an unmarked Safuwan Baharudin, but his headergoes straight to Farizal Harun.
90 Min: Substitute Sahil Suhaimi bursts through on goal, but is denied by the on-rushing Farizal.
- Shots: LionsXII 6 on target, 8 off target; Felda United 4 on target, 6 off target
- Corners: LionsXII 4; Felda United 1
- Yellow cards: LionsXII 0; Felda United 2
- Offsides: LionsXII 0; Felda United 6
- Possession: LionsXII 53 per cent; Felda United 47 per cent
- Attendance: 4,185
- Referee: Wan Tamizi Wan Ibrahim 7/10
- Match rating: 7.5/10