Super-subs Sufian Anuar and Christopher van Huizen were heroes on Wednesday night as LionsXII secured a Malaysia Cup quarter-final berth with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Terengganu FA.
LionsXII first-choice striker Khairul Amri was deemed fit enough to earn a spot in the starting 11 following his three-week layoff, but was forced off 10 minutes into the game after aggravating his hamstring injury.
Sufian came on to replace him, but it was Terengganu who drew first blood on 15 minutes in front of their vociferous fans at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium.
Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, who was making his return from a three-match suspension, skinned both Zulfahmi Arifin and Shakir Hamzah on the right byline before cutting it back for young Diyaulrahman Hasry to finish superbly past LionsXII goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
The visitors roared back with an instant reply though, restoring parity just a minute later through a determined Sufian.
The leather fell kindly to Sufian in the box after Zubir Azmi had failed to deal with Hafiz Sujad’s cross and the striker proceeded to lash a neat effort beyond Terengganu custodian Sharbinee Allawee for his first goal of the season.
The rain was beginning to pour down in Kuala Terengganu as Sufian nearly scored a second minutes later, with Sharbinee leaping well to tip over the substitute’s cheeky flick from Zulfahmi Arifin’s corner.
The home side nearly reclaimed their lead six minutes after the restart, with Ismail Faruqi seeing his close-range snapshot crash off the crossbar with Izwan beaten.
The match was unfortunately halted on the hour mark due to the treacherous conditions and only resumed after a 25-minute delay.
Knowing that they need a win of two goals or more to progress into the last eight, the Turtles piled on the pressure in the final 30 minutes but there was no way past a sturdy LionsXII backline led by Madhu Mohana.
The visitors were happy to hit on the break with Faris Ramli’s ambitious lob from just inside the Terengganu half looking destined for goal, but Sharbinee got back in time to tip the effort wide.
That was the 23-year-old winger’s last piece of action as LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad chose to throw on the fresh legs of Van Huizen.
It proved to be an inspired move as the youngster grabbed the winner with just two minutes to go.
The former Tampines Rovers starlet first saw his thunderous volley parried by Sharbinee, before scampering on to Sufian’s follow-up and sliding home gleefully from an acute angle at the far post.
That was enough for the LionsXII to seal all three points and finish top of Group A – setting up a two-legged quarter-final affair with Pahang FA who finished second in Group D.
Photo: Football Association of Singaporecomments