LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad is relishing the opportunity to face Pahang FA in the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals, despite having first-choice striker Khairul Amri still out with an injury.
After Singapore's losses to both Japan and Syria in the international break, the focus has now shifted back to the Malaysia Cup where the LionsXII will take on defending champions Pahang in a two-legged quarter-final clash.
The first leg will be played at Pahang’s Darul Makmur Stadium next Tuesday night, while the second leg will take place at Jalan Besar Stadium four days later.
It will prove to be a stern test of credentials for Fandi Ahmad’s men, given the undoubted quality of their opposition.
While they have yet to reach the heights of last year’s Double-winning campaign, the Tok Gajah have still enjoyed a good run to the FA Cup semi-finals and finished just two points behind eventual Malaysia Super League (MSL) winners Johor Darul Ta’zim.
Zainal Abidin Hassan’s side have also scored the joint-highest number of goals in the league along with Selangor FA, with their strike duo of Matias Conti and Dickson Nwakaeme accounting for 20 out of their 43-goal tally.
However Fandi remains unfazed ahead of the what should be an entertaining encounter with one of Malaysia's top sides.
“Pahang has always been our rival and we always love to play against them,” he told FourFourTwo after a training session at ITE College Central on Thursday evening.
“They’re a very competitive team with very good foreigners; the two "Twin Towers" (Damion Stewart and Zesh Rehman) at the back, speedy wingers like Gopi (R Gopinathan) and the two strong strikers (Conti and Nwakaeme).
“It’s not easy to play them but if we want to win the cup, we have to beat one of the strongest teams. From there, then we will know our quality.
“We’re going in with a lot of confidence because we have beaten them by big margins at home before and also won 2-1 over there in the Malaysia Cup last year.
“That’s a good sign and I believe our teamwork will be good enough to contain them.”
It seems like the mind games have already started way before the double-header, with Nwakaeme taking to Twitter to express his admiration for the LionsXII – claiming that they are ‘the best team in MSL’ and he ‘wish(es) to play for this team before I retire’.
@lionsxii360 the best team in MSL for me. Young and brave talented lads. Wish to play for this team before I retire. They make football easy
— Dickson Nwakaeme (@Dicksonnwakaeme) November 7, 2015
“We know that – he always tell us after we play each other that we’re the best team!” Fandi laughed.
“He told us that he love the way we play, our team work and would like to play with us, but we don’t take it seriously.”
For now, Fandi is worrying about his team selection ahead of the crunch first leg in Kuantan.
Chief striker Amri is still out with a hamstring injury and will likely not return until the semi-finals (provided the LionsXII make it there), while midfield enforcer Izzdin Shafiq is suspended for accumulating too many yellow cards.
“We’re definitely aiming for a good result there, but we’re not sure know to do it,” said the 53-year-old, who was part of Pahang’s 1992 Double-winning squad.
“Amri is still out, but we have (Khairul) Nizam, Sufian (Anuar), Sahil (Suhaimi) and Syafiq (Zainal) to choose from. Nizam just has started training after two to three weeks out, so we’ve check on his condition again.
“Safuwan (Baharudin) has an Achilles injury due to a kick he got in the Syria game, Izwan (Mahbud) also has a slight thigh strain and Faris is on MC (has a medical certificate) till Friday for food poisoning.
“I’m still not sure who’s going to play yet, I just hope there will be no more injuries.”
Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwocomments