Five things we learnt from LionsXII 1-2 Pahang: Uphill battle ahead
1) Lack of natural goal-scorer a major worry for LionsXII
The LionsXII dominated the game and the statistics backed it up, but this ultimately came to nothing where it counted – the final score-line. This has been a problem all year long for Fandi Ahmad’s charges, as they struggled to replace the goal-scoring abilities of Fazrul Nawaz and Shahril Ishak from 2013.
With Khairul Amri out injured, Fandi turned to Sufian Anuar, who netted a hat-trick against Pahang in the league earlier this year, his only goals of the entire season. However, Sufian failed to replicate his earlier form. While the striker is a tireless worker who gives his all on the pitch, he is no natural goal-scorer, and Fandi admitted that.
“He (Sufian) did his best and fought very hard but it’s just the quality we don’t have. He has been doing a lot personal training in terms of finishing. As a striker, you must have the instinct. Strikers are born not made. If you have it, you have it.
“We have to polish them until they get the positioning and the feel. They need to be sharper and technically you have to be there. They have to train from young. If you are gifted and you train you will get better. If you are ordinary and you train, you will reach only a certain level. We don’t have that in Singapore at this moment.”
However, Fandi did mention that both Sahil Suhaimi and Iqbal Hussein have the potential and it is no secret that fans wants to see Sahil donning the LionsXII jersey. Sahil Suhaimi, LionsXII class of 2015 No. 9 anyone?
2) Hafiz Sujad is no left winger
Once again, Hafiz Sujad tried his best down the left wing but it should be clear by now that he not an out and out winger in the mould of Faris Ramli, Nazrul Nazari or Gabriel Quak.
The diminutive midfielder came through the system as a box to box player, but has rarely been played there. Instead, he has been wasted out on the wings, as a full-back or winger. While the Singapore international can deliver a great cross, he is also a decent passer who can put in a tackle or two.
Hafiz lacks the pace to cut it out as a winger, and with Fandi preferring a passing game from his team, Hafiz would be more suited to a central midfield position where his eye for an pass and high energy levels could be more appropriately utilised.
Perhaps a change of position back to the centre of the park might see a change in fortunes for both the team and his own performances?
3) Dickson Nwakaeme, the human tank
Former LionsXII and current Tampines Rovers goalkeeper Hyrulnizam Juma’at recently tweeted a picture of a tank with the caption “How LionsXII player see Dickson Nwakame”.
And LionsXII defenders Madhu Mohana, Shakir Hamzah, Safuwan Baharudin and Afiq Yunos will all no doubt agree with that statement. During the match, Safuwan and company all struggled to contain the Pahang striker, as he played the role of target man to perfection to the Singapore defenders' frustration.
A nightmare to match up against, Nwakaeme grabbed the opening goal of the game as well. There is also no better indication of how annoyingly good a player is than when he gets jeered off by the home fans.
With the LionsXII still due to face Pahang FA once more in the group stages, the prospect of facing the intimidating striker must not be welcomed by the Singapore side.
4) Faris Ramli on fast track to stardom
He is still undergoing his national service but he was easily LionsXII best performer tonight, despite being involved in a football tournament for his Army formation which had hindered his preparations for the game.
Already a full international at just the tender age of 21, the tricky winger proved why he is so highly rated with a superb performance against Pahang FA. The Malaysia FA Cup winners found it hard to deal with Faris, as the LionsXII No. 17 was at the heart of almost all the chances created. And while his team lost the match, Faris managed to cap off his performance with a consolation goal.
It was clear that Singapore had a special talent when Faris first broke through the system, especially when he became the first Singaporean to make it into the top 52 of Nike’s ‘The Chance’ competition. But under the tutelage of Fandi Ahmad, Faris has improved by leaps and bounds this year.
With the AFF Suzuki Cup looming at the end of the year, do not be surprised if Faris manages to lead Singapore to the title, much like a certain Khairul Amri did seven years ago.
5) Rehman-Stewart a mean defensive partnership
At the heart of every top team lies a top defensive partnership. The Manchester United era under Sir Alex Ferguson had the Gary Pallister – Steve Bruce duo and later, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
Closer to home, LionsXII’s win last season had the Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin defensive tandem that opposing strikers dreaded facing. Pahang FA boast arguably the top pair of centre-backs in Zeshan Rehman and Damion Stewart this year. They know each other from their playing days with Queens Park Rangers, and Stewart had specially requested bringing in Rehman to join him as a free agent last year.
The centre back pairing dealt with everything their host threw at them on Tuesday night, producing several goal-saving blocks and tackles to help Pahang withstand the pressure. When Faris Ramli finally scored, it was only because they were surprised by the deflection off the linesman which Safuwan capitalized on.
If the duo continues their splendid form, Pahang will be a real threat to add a Malaysia Cup win to their FA Cup triumph earlier this season.
Photo: Weixiang Lim