LionsXII 2 Pahang FA 0: First-half blitz not enough for Fandi’s boys

Early goals from birthday boy Christopher van Huizen and Faris Ramli were not enough for the LionsXII as they fell to a 4-3 aggregate defeat to holders Pahang FA in the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals. 

The two wingers scored a goal apiece in the first 19 minutes, giving the home fans some hope of a miraculous fightback from the 4-1 first-leg deficit.

However it proved a step too far for the LionXII as they failed to find the decisive third goal which would send them through via the away goals rule.

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad kept to his pre-match promise of making a few changes - with Van Huizen coming in on the right wing and Shahdan Sulaiman slotting in just behind lone striker Safuwan Baharudin.

Needing to whittle down the three-goal deficit, the hosts started off in barnstorming fashion – putting relentless pressure down both flanks against Pahang full-backs Matthew Davies and Abdul Aziz Ismail.

The hard work led to them opening the scoring on 13 minutes, with Van Huizen celebrating his 23rd birthday in style with an unstoppable left-footed volley from the edge of the box after Hafiz Sujad’s left-wing cross was half-cleared into his path.

There was even more for the home fans to celebrate six minutes later as the LionsXII went two goals up through a superb team move.

The on-song Van Huizen sent right back Nazrul Nazari racing down the flank and the latter put in a teasing ball across the six-yard box for Faris to prod past the stranded Pahang keeper Khairul Azhan Khalid.

The Malaysia FA Cup champions continued to be in the ascendancy and nearly pulled level on aggregate in the 34th minutes, with Faris cutting inside his man before bending a stupendous 20-yard shot onto the crossbar with Azhan beaten all hands down.

It ended 2-0 after a first half where nothing went right for the visitors but it was a different story after the break.

The Tok Gajah gradually got their act together and began to enjoy more possession in the attacking third – with the menacing Dickson Nwakaeme holding off Shakir Hamzah before lashing wide from a tight angle, while Zesh Rehman’s headed effort from Azamuddin Akil’s cross was ruled off for offside.

Fandi reacted by replacing the tiring Van Huizen with Gabriel Quak on the hour mark and the latter added more penetration in attack after his introduction.

Forwards Khairul Nizam and Sahil Suhaimi were then thrown into the fray with 20 minutes left to play, but the Pahang defence led by the sturdy Damion Stewart stood firm and repelled any danger that came their way.

Eventually time ran out for the Singaporeans as the players sunk to the ground in despair upon the final whistle, knowing that this would be their last-ever match in Malaysian competitions.