The LionsXII face a first test of their credentials this Saturday, but head coach Fandi Ahmad is cautiously optimistic.
Having watched and played against Polis Di-Raja Malaysia (PDRM) during the recent President of Maldives International Cup last month, Fandi reckons he has their opening Malaysia Super League opponents worked out ahead of the season opener at home on Saturday.
“They are very direct opponents who have a strong line-up that including powerful imports and three Malaysia internationals,” he told FourFourTwo at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday.
“We have played against them (in a 2-1 defeat in the Maldives quadrangular) and also watched them several times live and from the videos, so we know everything about them.”
The 51-year-old coach singled out Maldives international striker Ali Ashfaq in particular as the key opposition player to watch out for.
In a league where European, South American and African imports are a dime a dozen, he has shone as the lone representative from the Indian subcontinent in his second stint in the Malaysian club scene.
The 29-year-old former Duli Pengiran Muda Makhota (DPMM) forward, who featured for the Bruneian professional club in the Malaysian top-flight in 2007, bagged 18 goals as PDRM sauntered to the title and promotion from the second-tier.
“For someone who does not come from the traditional football nations, Ashfaq is an intelligent player with a deadly left foot,” Fandi said.
“It is important that we do not give him the time and space to roam, otherwise he is capable of punishing us when he receives the ball on the ground.”
But Fandi is pleased with the Lions’ build-up ahead of the big kickoff and quietly confident they can make strides in the league after a disappointing 2014.
“The team atmosphere is good and the level of communication has risen from last year,” he said.
“Then, they were more reserved, but I have noticed them raising their game and being more vocal in engaging their teammates during training and matches.”
With a visible spring in their steps as the team went through the final touches of their preparations, Fandi is cautiously optimistic they can deliver in front of an expectant Jalan Besar crowd this weekend.
“Everyone needs to work hard for one another in the team, it will be difficult if three or more have off days on that day,” he said.
“For us to get a good result, we need brains, brawn and courage to prevail as it will not be an easy game for us.”
Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwocomments