Malaysia Cup | Pasir Gudang Corporation Stadium | Sat 19 Sep | 8.45pm
A chance for Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) II to avoid a third straight 2-0 loss to the LionsXII this season.
JDT II FORM
- Terengganu FA 0-0 JDT II (M’sia Cup)
- Sabah 1-2 JDT II (MPL)
- JDT II 0-0 NS Matrix (MPL)
- JDT II 2-1 KL FA (MPL)
- Kedah FA 3-2 JDT II (MPL)
- LionsXII 1-1 Kedah FA (M’sia Cup)
- LionsXII 3-0 Sime Darby (MSL)
- Sarawak FA 2-1 LionsXII (MSL)
- LionsXII 1-1 Selangor FA (MSL)
- JDT 1-0 LionsXII (MSL)
Both teams ended last weekend with draws and it is no secret who were the happier of the two sides.
After a 0-0 draw against Felda United in last year’s group opener, the LionsXII were hoping to avoid a similar start to this year’s campaign. However they failed to roar against a sturdy Kedah FA side and had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
That led to coach Fandi Ahmad’s scathing assessment that it was one of their worst performances of the season. It is still early days but it is of paramount importance that the LionsXII rediscover their swagger soon.
It was just a little over 12 months ago when the Singaporeans spluttered in the same competition, having to wait till the fifth group game to get their first win. By then, it was too little too late as they suffered the ignominy of being dumped out after the group stages.
Will history repeat itself this year? A second successive premature exit could be one too many for the LionsXII faithful to take. So the earlier they return to winning ways, the better.
Meanwhile JDT II started off on a much more positive note, holding much-fancied Terengganu FA to a 0-0 stalemate at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium with the home side missing a penalty in the dying moments of the match.
Widely expected to finish bottom of the pile, it seems like the Southern Tigers' second team are not just here to make up the numbers. Perhaps they are motivated to give something back to their fans after a topsy-turvy season in the Malaysia Premier League (MPL).
If LionsXII fans were frustrated at their team's inconsistenty this season, spare a thought for their Johor counterparts.
Three wins in the first three games raised hopes of a possible title challenge for JDT II, but what followed was a bewildering seven-match winless streak. They then embarked on a neat four-match winning run shortly into the second half of the season before losing their next three matches in a row.
That was the kind of Jekyll and Hyde form that saw them finish fifth out of 12 teams, 11 points off the promotion places.
They will definitely have a point to prove against the LionsXII after being beaten 4-0 on aggregate in the Malaysia FA Cup quarter-finals earlier in April though. The visitors’ away troubles this season has been well-documented and Nenad Bacina’s men will fancy their chances of an upset this time round.
Apart from the crocked Gabriel Quak, the LionsXII are at full strength for this game. Afiq Yunos made the bench for the first time since his ankle injury six months ago, while hot shot Khairul Amri will return from suspension to lead the attack.
Similarly JDT II will be able to field their strongest lineup, so expect Nenad to keep faith with almost the same 11 that started the gutsy draw against Terengganu. Baihakki Khaizan should be tasked to man-mark international teammate Khairul Amri, with Argentinian defender Nicolas Delmonte as close cover.
Shahril Ishak should also be tasked to lead an attacking force which consists of pacey players like Irfan Fazail and Zaquan Adha. The former LionsXII man will be keen to prove that he is no spent force after scoring just seven goals in all competitions so far.
After scoring four goals in the first five league matches and hitting one in the 2-1 win against Selangor PKNS in the FA Cup Round of 32, the 31-year-old has only scored two more since – netting a brace in the 4-1 win against T-Team on July 31.
Key Battle: Baihakki Khaizan vs Khairul Amri
In what will probably to be a tight game, the match outcome is likely to hinge on the duel between these two old friends.
Pivotal at both ends for Singapore’s successes at the AFF Suzuki Cup during 2004, 2007 and 2012, their friendship will have to be set aside for 90 minutes as they fight for their respective teams.
Baihakki will be hoping to keep up his recent good form with the national team, while Amri will be hoping to score his first competitive goal from open play since netting in the 3-0 thrashing of Kelantan FA in early July.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- JDT II 0-2 LionsXII (FA Cup, Apr '14)
- LionsXII 2-0 JDT II (FA Cup, Apr '14)
- LionsXII 2-2 JDT II (M’sia Cup, Aug '14)
- JDT II 2-1 LionsXII (M’sia Cup, Aug '14)
- LionsXII 1-0 Johor FA (M’sia Cup, Sep '13)
There should also not be much animosity on the benches, with the coaches knowing each other since their playing days. JDT II’s Nenad Bacina both played under and alongside LionsXII’s Fandi Ahmad when the latter was player-coach for SAFFC (now Warriors FC) from 2000 to 2002.
44-year-old Bacina, who had previously coached Woodlands Wellington, Hougang United and Tampines Rovers in the S.League, took over from Goran Paulic in mid-May and will be hoping for a good Cup run to keep his employers happy.
Facts and Figures
- LionsXII have the upper hand in terms of past encounters. Both sides have faced off six times, with the LionsXII winning three times to JDT II's one victory. The remaining match ended up in a draw
- The solitary win for JDT II came in last year’s Malaysia Cup group stages when Fandi Ahmad’s (not to be confused with the current LionsXII coach) late goal was enough to sink the LionsXII 2-1
- JDT have a rather mixed record at home – winning five, drawing three and losing three in the league, while winning once in the FA Cup
- The LionsXII’s away struggles are there for all to see – winning one, drawing three and losing seven in the league, although they did win three out of four in the FA Cup (with the 3-2 loss to Terengganu the only blip)
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: I have a feeling that Fandi's lads will prove too strong for JDT II this time round. I'll go with yet another 2-0 win to the visitors.
Kenneth Tan: The LionsXII should have learnt their lessons from last week’s draw against Kedah. Fancy them coming away with a 1-0 victory and a morale-boosting clean sheet for Izwan Mahbud.
VOXSPORTS' Nigel Chin: LionsXII to win 2-1. Amri's return will be vital and the LionsXII boys will have woken up following some harsh words from Fandi. Time to get the campaign back on track.
Yahoo Sport's Teng Kiat: 2-0 to the LionsXII. Fandi's men to get back on track with a convincing victory. Faris and Amri to net.
All Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo