Pahang 4 LionsXII 1: Elephants trounce LionsXII on sorry night for visitors

Pahang took one giant step into the semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup after cruising past a hapless LionsXII team 4-1 in the first leg of this semi-final clash at the Darul Makmur stadium.

Hafiz Kamal, Dickson Nwakaeme, Matias Conti and substitute R Gopinathan condemned Fandi’s men to a heavy defeat, with Safuwan Baharudin earning a scant consolation in extra time.

The result came just hours before the announcement that Singapore's representatives would not be returning to Malaysia next season, with Fandi Ahmad's men potentially playing their last game in a LionsXII strip this weekend.

In their changed blue strip, the Lions XII were missing Khairul Amri and Khairul Nizam in attack, while Pahang in their traditional yellow continued to thrive with their formidable striking partnership of Dickson and Conti.

Fandi was well aware of the threat posed by this duo but he couldn’t have envisioned a worse start with just five minutes gone.

Pahang’s Surendren had time and space to gallop down the right flank and Faris Ramli had little choice but hack down the midfielder.

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Hafiz Kamal stepped up and curled the resulting free kick straight at Izwan Mahbud but the LionsXII captain was caught by surprise and spilled the ball over the net, much to the delight of the home fans.

It wasn’t the start that Fandi had imagined on this tough away game and it almost got worse when Pahang had two penalty shouts waved away in quick successions.

From the half way line, Nwakaeme dribbled straight into an inviting penalty box and even with Madhu Mohana and Sahil Suhaimi double-teaming him, he managed to sneak past and was eventually brought down by Madhu. However, referee Mohd Nafeez was unimpressed, much to the relief of Fandi’s men.

The scene was replayed just a minute later with Madhu once again troubled by Nwakaeme, who once again hit the deck after another challenge, but the referee waved played on.

Despite their early attacking pressure, Pahang were extremely lucky to finish the half with 11 men after a nasty incident in the 26th minute.

There was no pressure on Aziz Ismail as he shielded the ball from Lions XII’s Nazrul Nazari but the Pahang man drove a heavy elbow straight into the face of a surprised Nazrul.

The subsequent melee resulted in both sides squaring up angrily with each other and the referee eventually brandished a yellow card for Aziz, who accepted the punishment readily and walked away.

Faris Ramli ended a disappointing first half for the LionsXII as he received a long ball from the right but his stinging shot was superbly palmed away by Pahang goalkeeper Md Khairul Azhan.

The Elephants started the second half positively in search of a two-goal cushion and with the first half solely focused on Nwakaeme, it was time for his Argentinean strike partner Conti to light up the night.

With just five minute gone in the second half, both forwards combined perfectly with Nwakaeme strutting down the left flank and crossing for the unmarked Conti but his header was acrobatically tipped over by Izwan.

But there was no stopping the Argentinian striker shortly after, as full-back Azamuddin Akil sent a low cross into the penalty box as LionsXII defender Shakir Hamzah slipped at the crucial moment.

The ball trickled into the inviting path of Conti, who made no mistake and slammed the ball home from close range to extend Pahang’s lead.

Fandi rang in the changes almost immediately, bringing on Christopher van Huizen for Faris Ramli in search of an elusive away goal, but instead it was the home side that went 3-0 up.

Nwakaeme’s goal was long overdue and it finally came before the hour mark. He carefully received Conti’s subtle pass in the box before his powerful shot deflected off Shakir into the top right hand corner.

Pahang substitute Gopinathan continued the rout in the 66th minute as he collected a through pass and had the easy task of slotting home with only Izwan to beat, the home fans thundering their approval as they went 4-0 up.

Fandi had little choice left with no fit strikers in his starting line up and he decided to push Safuwan further forward after taking off Sahil.

The move paid off with virtually the last kick of the game in the 92nd minute, with the Singaporean star rising the highest in the penalty box to head past an onrushing Md Khairul for his sixth goal of the tournament.

But there were no cheers for the men in blue as they head back to Singapore with a massive mountain to climb, knowing that only a miracle can send them into the semi-finals and extend their stay in Malaysia.