Terengganu FA 3 LionsXII 2 (4-4 agg): Singaporeans hang on to reach FA Cup final

The LionsXII are through to their first ever Malaysia FA Cup final despite losing a five-goal thriller in front of a sell-out crowd at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium.

Khairul Amri put the Singapore representatives ahead twice in the first half, but they were pegged back on both occasions through Paulo Rangel.

Norshahrul Idlan Talaha then scored after the break to put Terengganu one goal within reaching the final but the LionsXII eventually hung on to progress via the away goals rule despite incessant late pressure.

Nordin Alias’ 89th-minute goal was ruled out for offside, before Rangel and Gustavo Lopez were subsequently dismissed to compound matters for the Turtles who had won successive FA Cups in 2010 and 2011.

Trailing 2-1 from the first leg at Jalan Besar Stadium, there was little surprise when Terengganu came rushing out of the blocks to cancel out the one-goal deficit.

Rangel and Issey Nakajima-Farran were both brought back into the starting lineup, after missing the first leg through suspension and injury respectively, and were involved in the early going.

They were both set up by the rejuvenated Norshahrul, but Rangel fired just wide of the right-hand post and Nakajima-Farran was unable to keep his volley down from just six yards out.

The LionsXII broke forward in numbers on the counter attack and duly broke the deadlock on 18 minutes.

Latching onto Nazrul’s excellent lofted ball, Amri snuck in between Terengganu centre-backs Vincent Bikana and Hasmizan Kamarodin before getting past keeper Sharbinee Allawee to slot home coolly into an empty net.

However their joy proved to be short-lived as the Turtles levelled matters just four minutes later.

Nakajima-Farran’s inch-perfect right-wing cross put it on a platter for Rangel to loop an excellent header beyond the stranded Izwan Mahbud in the LionsXII goal.

Rangel could have netted his second just moments later after turning well from Helmi Remeli’s cut-back, but his shot was well held by Izwan.

He would live to rue that miss on 28 minutes as the LionsXII retook the lead through an Amri masterpiece.

The 30-year-old slipped after Safuwan Baharudin had flicked on Izddin Shafiq’s freekick, but recovered in time to let fly a stinging 20-yard volley which crashed in off the underside of the bar.

However Terengganu kept plugging away and their pressure paid just seconds before the half-time whistle went.

Referee Amirul Izwan Yaacob pointed to the spot after Safuwan was adjudged to have fouled Rangel inside the box and the latter dusted himself off to fire home from 12 yards out.

Fandi decided to fresh things up after the break by bringing on Firdaus Kasman for Raihan Rahman, but it was Abdul Rahman Ibrahim’s outfit who settled back in the better of the two sides as they duly led for the first time on the night on 59 minutes.

Rangel’s cutback caused chaos in the LionsXII box, where Safuwan and Hafiz Sujad both fluffed their attempted clearances, before the leather fell to Norshahrul who unleashed an acrobatic scissors kick beyond the despairing dive of Izwan.

Needing just one goal to overturn the tie, the Turtles kept piling the pressure on Izwan’s goal but the 24-year-old came out on top to deny efforts from Ismail Faruqi and Rangel.

Giant centre-back Vincent Bikana was pushed into attack in the dying stages as they looked to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at the visitors.

They thought they had completed the remarkable comeback just a minute before the end of regulation time when Nordin headed home from close range via Ismail’s flick-on from Hasmizan’s scuffed volley, after Izwan was caught out of position after punching away Lopez’s corner.

However the 29-year-old’s celebrations was cut short by the assistant referee’s offside flag and Rangel was duly brandished a straight red for kicking the ball out of frustration at the latter.

Lopez then followed suit moments later for pushing referee Amirul after a decision had gone against his way.

That marked the end of their brave resistance as the LionsXII hung on to reach their first ever major cup final in their four-year history.

Fandi and his players sank to their knees upon the full-time whistle, knowing that they have a final against Kelantan FA next Saturday at the Bukit Jalil Stadium to savour.  

The Red Warriors overturned a 1-0 deficit against Pahang FA in the first leg to progress 3-2 on aggregate.