Malaysia Super League | Jalan Besar Stadium | Wed Jul 8 | 9.00pm
The LionsXII's struggle for top-half respectability vs Perak's fight for top spot.
- LionsXII 3-0 Kelantan FA (MSL)
- PDRM FA 2-1 LionsXII (MSL)
- ATM FA 1-1 LionsXII (MSL)
- LionsXII 3-1 ATM FA (MSL)
- Kelantan FA 1-3 LionsXII (FA Cup)
PERAK FA FORM
- Perak FA 2-1 ATM FA (MSL)
- Sime Darby 1-3 Perak FA (MSL)
- Perak FA 3-1 Sarawak FA (MSL)
- Sarawak FA 1-1 Perak FA (MSL)
- Pahang FA 1-0 Perak FA (MSL)
It’s just one week to go before the likes of Arsenal, Everton and Stoke City strut into Singapore for the Barclays Asia Trophy.
Eleven of the LionsXII players are named in the Singapore Selection squad coached by V Sundramoorthy, but first they will have to keep their minds focused for the final Malaysian Super League (MSL) game in this Ramadan period.
So far it has been a decent return to MSL action for Fandi Ahmad’s side after their Malaysia FA Cup triumph, collecting seven points from four games. A 3-1 home win against ATM FA was followed by two disappointing away results – a 1-1 draw against ATM and a 2-1 loss against PDRM FA.
However, they bounced back in emphatic fashion last Saturday with a 3-0 thumping of Kelantan FA, as Faris Ramli scored twice and Khairul Amri netted his first goal in nine league matches. That also marked their biggest league victory of the season, something which should set them up nicely for a tough clash against a high-flying Perak FA side.
There should be plenty of motivation as the Singaporeans have a chance to lift themselves two positions to fifth in the 12-team table with a win, should other results go their way (fifth-placed Felda United host Kelantan FA and sixth-placed PDRM go away to ATM FA).
The task of course will not be easy, with the Bos Gaurus flying high under the stewardship of Dato M. Karathu. The Ipoh-based team are one of the most in-form sides in the league right now, having put together a three-match winning streak (beating Sarawak 3-1, Sime Darby 3-1 and ATM 3-1) after a 1-1 draw away at Sarawak FA.
Perak's string of results has lifted them to a dizzying third in the table, just three points behind leaders Pahang FA. Should the Tok Gojah fall to a shock defeat against Sarawak, a win against the LionsXII will see the 2007 runners-up taking over at the summit via superior goal difference.
After a commanding performance against Kelantan over the weekend, coach Fandi has hinted that he will make minimal changes to the LionsXII starting eleven.
First-choice goalie Izwan Mahbud is looking sprightly in training after sustaining a knee injury against the Red Warriors, and should be fit enough to resume the spot between the sticks. With Zulfahmi Arifin still recovering from his ankle injury, Shakir Hamzah will continue to deputise at the heart of defence alongside the ever-present Madhu Mohana.
Although Firdaus Kasman is back from suspension, Fandi is likely to persist with the central midfield pairing of Safuwan Baharudin and Izzdin Shafiq. Meanwhile, Shahdan Sulaiman is likely to be given his second successive start after impressing in the hole just behind Khairul Amri the last time out.
The link between Shahdan and Amri will be absolutely crucial in breaking down a Perak side which has the third-best defence in the league – conceding just 16 goals in 14 matches.
With the commanding presence of former Brazil Under-17 starlet Thiago Junior Aquino at the back, the confidence has also spread to the attacking front where they are also the third-best attacking side in the league with 26 goals.
The strike partnership of Namkung Woong and Charles Souza Chad has accounted for 17 of those goals, something which the LionsXII should watch out for. Of course it would also be handy to kill off the ammunition provided by effervescent winger Nurridzuan Abu Hassan, who has also netted six times himself thus far.
Key Battle: Shakir Hamzah vs Namkung Woong
Whether the LionsXII can pick up a second win in four days largely hinges on how well Shakir copes with Perak’s South Korean hitman Namkung.
Shakir showed shades of his old self against Kelantan as he effectively shackled the likes of Erwin Carrillo and Austin Amutu – something which he needs to carry into this game as he continues to deputise at centre-back.
On the other hand, Namkung has been in inspired form since joining the Bos Gaurus in the off-season from Kedah FA, where he played a part in their dream run to the semi-finals of last year’s Malaysia Cup.
With almost a decade of experience in the K-League with clubs like Suwon Bluewings and Seongnam Ilhwa, the 31-year-old is as cool as a cucumber in front of goal and will surely be looking to add to his tally of eight league goals so far.
In Jalan Besar’s away dugout is the experienced Dato M. Karathu, who is currently the oldest MSL coach at the age of 72.
Observant S.League fans will remember his days in charge of the now-defunct Woodlands Wellington back in 2002 to 2003, but he is most well known for his achievements at Perak where he led the club to the inaugural Malaysia FA Cup title back in 1990.
Having been coaxed out of retirement to take charge of the club for a fourth spell last December, it seems the legendary Malaysian football icon’s Midas touch is rubbing off in Ipoh once again.
Facts and Figures
- The LionsXII have the upper hand in terms of head-to-head records between both teams. They have faced each other nine times in history, with the Singaporeans winning five times and Perak twice. The other two matches ended up in draws.
- All five wins for the LionsXII were only by single-goal margins.
- In seven of their eight league wins this season, either Chad or Namkung has scored (Two wins in which they both scored).
- The LionsXII are unbeaten in nine games at home this season – winning four and drawing two in the league, while winning three in the FA Cup.
- On the other hand, Perak has collected the most points (13) on the road amongst the 12 league teams – with four wins, one draw and one loss.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: It's an interesting battle given both team's forms. Perak are the better side on table, but this is a LionsXII team high on confidence. I'm tipping Perak to take the lead but fail to kill the hosts off. A 2-2 draw with a late, dramatic LionsXII equaliser.
Kenneth Tan: A really tough one to call, with two evenly-matched teams. However I fancy the LionsXII to collect yet another home victory, a 2-1 win with Amri scoring yet again.
Darren Goon: Sorry but I can't see Perak losing this. Namkung, Chad, and Nuri together have outscored eight MSL teams and they should be too much for Lions to handle. 3-1.
The Straits Times’ Deepanraj Ganesan: 1-1. Perak FA are a team in form but the LionsXII are unbeaten at home and the record will not be broken, not just yet.
Yahoo Sports’ Teng Kiat: Perak, who are in good form, will be tough to crack and the LionsXII will have their hands full coping with the menacing pair of Chad and Namkung. However, Fandi's boys are on a high themselves and this could be an entertaining battle. I am going for a 2-2 draw again.
Main Photo: Football Association of Singapore