Malaysia FA Cup | Jalan Besar Stadium | Sat 21 Mar | 7.45pm
A mismatch. On paper, that is.
After a thrilling 4-0 away victory against PB Melayu Kedah, the LionsXII are now in the FA Cup round of 16 and could set up an quarter-final clash with Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II (and Singapore internationals Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khaizan), if they make it through.
These are strange times for the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions as they seem to be playing well without managing to eke out a victory. Last week’s 1-1 home draw against Terengganu FA was their third successive draw in the league, as they held both Perak FA and Felda United on the road in two previous games.
They did register a victory against the Kedah Malays in the first round of the FA Cup though, with goals from Afiq Yunos, Gabriel Quak and a brace from Sahil Suhaimi.
Things are a little bit bleaker for their visitors on Saturday, KL SPA Putrajaya, as they currently lie bottom of the Malaysian Premier League with one draw and four losses thus far. The loss of key defender and Guadeloupe international Eddy Viator to S.League-chasing side Tampines Rovers seemed to have hit the Wild Cats hard as they have leaked 19 goals in just five games.
Starting the season with two successive 5-1 losses against Kedah FA and JDT II, they gained their first point by holding NS Matrix 1-1. However their poor form continued with 4-1 and 4-0 defeats against Sabah FA and KL DRB-Hicom respectively.
Of course they can look to the FA Cup where their form is slightly better as they thrashed fellow MPL side Kuantan FA 3-0 to progress into the round, with Nigerian import Michael Ijezie Chukwubunna bagging a hat-trick.
Ijezie, who has previously played against the LionsXII in the 2012 FA Cup with NS Betaria, has shone up front for SPA Putrajaya despite the difficult times with a total of six goals in all competitions thus far.
Oddly, the side have only registered three foreign players for this season – signing Ijezie and South Korean defender Kwon Jon from DRB-Hicom, while retaining former Olympiakos hardman Guy Bwele. Amongst the locals, there are a number of handy additions – with starlets Ibrahim Jobeli and Shahfiq Azman joining from Harimau Muda B, while Hafiz Abu Hassan and Alyy Imran Samarkhan have joined from Selangor PKNS.
A shock win against the LionsXII could well be the tonic to reinvigorate their season as they look to avoid relegation into the FAM league.
There are a number of injury concerns for the LionsXII ahead of this game. While Afiq Yunos looks fit enough to start this time round, his defensive partner Madhu Mohana has sustained a groin strain in training and could miss out.
Key winger Faris Ramli is still recovering from a hamstring strain which he sustained against Terengganu and Nazrul Nazari is similarly nursing himself back to full fitness after the knee injury which saw him sit out the Terengganu game.
In better news for the hosts, hardman Raihan Rahman has resumed full training with the team and could be in contention for the matchday squad, while back-ups Zakir Samsudin and Faris Azienuddin are expected to earn their spots on the bench.
Samuel Benjamin and Shahdan Sulaiman continue to miss out due to long-term injuries.
Player to watch: Sahil Suhaimi
How long more do we have to go before seeing this lad get a start? That might be the question on the minds of LionsXII fans and observers as the 22-year-old impact subsitute continues to impress off the bench.
Described by coach Fandi Ahmad as his ‘trump card’, Sahil is often used in the second half either to change the game or run the opposition defence ragged.
In the opening game of the season against PDRM FA, it took just two minutes to make his mark as he curled home a superb freekick for his first LionsXII goal. Then with the Kedah Malays making life difficult in the Cup, he lashed in a brilliant volley before stooping to head home Syafiq Zainal’s cross to inspire his side to a big win.
Last week against Terengganu, he set up Faris’ equalizer and was unlucky not to score the winner as his raking freekick came off the bar and then the line.
This looks like the best opportunity for Fandi to give him a start although he played 51 minutes in the Singapore Under-23s 1-3 loss to Cambodia Under-22s on Thursday night.
Fanid's opposite number this Saturday evening will be Shah Alias Norbit, who the club has kept faith in despite a poor MPL campaign the last time out.
Not much is known about the former Selangor FA player but the veteran’s coaching CV includes being a former assistant coach at Selangor and a stint as the head coach of the Malaysia women’s national team.
Facts and Figures
- The LionsXII have not reached the quarter-finals since their inaugural season in 2012 – faltering at the first hurdle against PKNS in 2013 while exiting in the round of 16 after a 2-1 home defeat to eventual winners Pahang FA in 2014.
- Interestingly, 12 members of SPA Putrajaya’s playing roster are Malaysian Public Service Commission staff.
- The Wild Cats are heavily reliant on Ijezie’s goalscoring prowess – apart from the Nigerian’s six goals, winger-cum-forward Hafillah Raja Mamat is the only player who has hit the back of the net this season. Last season’s top scorer Khairol Azry Abdul Rahman has yet to get off the mark.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: Fandi's backup players will be eager to prove themselves against the basement side in Malaysia's second division. Watch out for Sahil and Syafiq Zainal to impress in a 3-0 win.
Gary Koh: 5-0 victory, with the home team leading 2-0 at halftime.
Kenneth Tan: Nothing less than a straightforward win for the LionsXII although I do not foresee a thrashing. 3-1, with goals from Sahil, Khairul Amri and Izzdin Shafiq, while Ijezie nabs the consolation for the visitors.
Berita Harian's Norman Sawi: At least a two-goal victory for LionsXII. They should be more stable in defence with Afiq's return, while SPA Putrajaya's form has been terrible this season.
938Live's Noah "The Ark" Tan: 4-0 to the hosts, and Amri to end his goal drought.
Main Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT & asiana.my