2014 Malaysia Cup team preview: LionsXII
Home Ground: Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore
Nickname: The Lions
Super League: 8th
FA Cup: Second Round
Last Season's Malaysia Cup: Quarter-finals
What happened in the league?
It was always going to be difficult to replace the terrific trio of Baihakki Khaizan, Hariss Harun and Shahril Ishak, who all left for the Johor-based teams at the start of the season, but no one quite expected the lowly season that was about to come. Beaten by Pahang in the season-opening Charity Shield slash league game, they never really got their season going. In the second half of the season, it was disastrous as they picked up only two wins in their last nine games. A 2-1 win against ATM stopped a three-game losing streak, but they went on another four-game winless run before beating T-Team in the final league game. Eventually they finished 8th, well off their aim to finish inside the top three.
It is near-impossible to beat the Singaporeans at their own den. In their victorious campaign last term, all teams bar JDT went home with nothing from the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Jalan Besar Stadium is a fortress no more. Ever since Pahang ended their 19-month home unbeaten run in the FA Cup second round early in the season, they have struggled to make the same impact at home. With a total of three draws and four defeats from 11 home games, the 7500-capacity arena has lost its fear factor.
With a squad mainly made up of Under-23 players, fitness is not a question for the LionsXII. They certainly do not lack the speed especially on the sides, with athletic full-backs Shakir Hamzah and Faritz Hameed bombing down the flanks to support the likes of Faris Ramli, Nazrul Nazari and Gabriel Quak.
The biggest problem for them is the profligacy in front of goal. Time and time again, the Lions created numerous chances in front of goal but failed to finish them off – prompting coach Fandi Ahmad to say that he ‘rather play shit football and get results’ at one of the post-match press conferences. Another thing not to be ignored is perhaps their struggle to get clean sheets, accumulating only five in 22 games.
The player to watch
Nothing excites the crowd more than a fearless youngster who has loads of abilities down the flanks. Faris Ramli has really grown in stature this season and has been one of the few shining lights for the LionsXII this season. With his ability to take on two to three defenders at one go, the 21-year-old creates space for the likes of Khairul Amri and Sufian Anuar to finish the job.
Undoubtedly the finest player Singapore football has produced, Fandi Ahmad is still trying to make his mark from the touchline. Things have not really gone his way this season, with some members of the Singaporean public even questioning his ability as a football coach. He will surely be eyeing this Malaysia Cup as a good chance to shut those critics up.
Group stage fixtures
Aug 13 – Felda United (H)
Aug 19 – Pahang (H)
Aug 22 – JDT II (A)
Aug 26 – JDT II (H)
Aug 29 – Pahang (A)
Sep 2 – Felda United (A)