LionsXII head coach Fandi Ahmad wants his side to be prepared for a tough battle against Malaysia Premier League (MPL) champions Kedah FA in their Malaysia Cup Group A opener on Saturday night.
Kedah enjoyed a brilliant season in the MPL, losing just twice in 22 games as they emerged champions after an emphatic 5-1 thrashing of DRB-Hicom FC on the final day.
Led by inspirational captain Baddrol Bakhtiar, the Helang Merah plundered a total of 46 goals on their way to the championship. Mid-season signing Sandro da Silva accounted for nine goals, while Nigerian hotshot Chidi Edeh struck 11 times to finish as the league’s top scorer.
It's no surprise then that LionsXII coach Fandi is taking nothing for granted when his side host the newly-crowned MPL champions at Jalan Besar Stadium in their Group A opener.
The 53-year-old knows all about how a poor start can affect a Cup campaign. Just last season, the LionsXII began with a limp 0-0 draw against Felda United, a result which set the tone ahead of a premature exit from the tournament.
“Kedah can be a very dangerous team with good finishers,” Fandi warned.
“Baddrol’s their key player in the engine room; he’s technically very sound and can spray good passes. They are one of those teams who can really work as a unit. That’s why they’re the champions.
“They’ll be eager to prove themselves so that’s why we cannot underestimate them. It’s important that we’re compact in both defence and attack, so that we can weaken their strengths.”
Seven LionsXII players were in the starting line-up for the Singapore national team as they slipped to a narrow 1-0 loss away to Syria in their World Cup qualifier last Thursday.
Fandi, who is also part of the Lions’ coaching team, wants them to replicate the same standards against Kedah.
“They’ve been playing at a certain level so they cannot drop,” he said.
“When you’ve been playing international matches, you should focus on keeping that standard. Our team is not about individuals, so it’s very important that the players know their specific responsibilities.
“We need everyone to be fully committed and in their best form, not just 50 per cent.”
With an unbeaten home record of 11 wins and three draws in all competitions this season, LionsXII have every reason to feel confident of a winning start to their campaign this time round.
“Of course it’s an advantage for us to start off at home first,” Fandi said.
“A cup game is very different, but definitely we want to win at home. The mindset must always be right; we must go into this game thinking that we’re superior.
“It doesn’t matter if they have four foreigners, because we have the ability to beat them if we believe in the team strategy. I just hope that the [fans] will come down and give us their full support.”comments