LionsXII sweating on Afiq fitness ahead of Felda clash

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Key defender Afiq Yunos is racing against time to be fit for Saturday's crunch fixture against Felda United after a sudden attack of gout.

To cope with his possible absence, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad has been experimenting with either Zulfahmi Arifin or Izzdin Shafiq alongside Madhu Mohana at the heart of defence in training as he looks to stop an impressive Felda side which has scored eight goals in three league games thus far.

“We’ve been unlucky with injuries, this week we have Hafiz (Sujad) coming back but Afiq could be out,” he told assembled media at his side’s training session at ITE College Central on Friday morning.

“We’re trying out every week possible to maximize our personnel. Zul is training there now and we’re trying to use Izzdin as well. Afiq has trained today but is still limping. Hopefully he’ll be fit, but if he’s not 100%, we won’t use him.”

The Fighters have been in superb form since promotion back into the MSL, drawing 3-3 with Sarawak FA before beating Sime Darby FC 3-0 and ATM FA 2-1 to lead the table on goals scored.

The all-African strikeforce of Edward Junior Wilson and Ndumba Makeche has scored two goals apiece, while rising star Ahmad Syamim Yahya has similarly hit the target twice, but Fandi believes the key to a positive result will be to stop the supply to these forwards.

“Generally we’re aware of their individual qualities,” he said.

“They have two very strong African forwards and also my former (JDT II) player Syamim who is a very committed player and hard runner.

“Thus it’s important that our two midfielders and also (Khairul) Amri stop them from making the passes; they have Zah Rahan (Krangar) who sprays the passes and the centre back Bojan (Miladinovic) who like to play long and diagonal balls to Makeche or Wilson.

“It’ll be a disadvantage if we allow them to play the ball beyond our defence.”

The LionsXII have started in the season in decent form - beating PDRM FA 5-3, losing 2-0 at Kelantan before drawing 2-2 at Perak FA to sit at eighth position out of 12 teams.

While they currently have the same number of points as the same stage last season, Fandi believes he has seen improvement in his charges so far.

“So far the spirit in the team is good and we have more guts now,” he said.

“Our players mature later than the Europeans but I’m happy to see improvement in players like Madhu, Gabriel (Quak), Nazrul (Nazari and Firdaus (Kasman) after almost one and a half years under me.

“Slowly I can see their development in terms of consistency, maybe not to the maximum but we’re maintaining, unlike last year where things can go down all of a sudden.

“The only thing is that playing away might take a few percent away from them because of the fear but by now, they should be able to better withstand the pressure.”

 The LionsXII have only managed to string two or more wins in a row just once under Fandi’s reign, with the former national forward admitting it is something which his side need to do more often.

“We must make winning a habit,” he said.

“For a developmental team like us, it’s difficult but we must try. We have to stay compact against a team like Felda, we need to move as a group in defence, midfield and attack.

“We cannot have one or two players are not in the game, everyone must be on top of their game. We must have the guts to battle out and pick up the second balls.

“At the back, two to three players are still quite quiet and I need them to give instructions during the game.”

Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo