The FourFourTwo Preview: LionsXII vs ATM FA
Back to business for the newly-crowned Malaysia FA Cup winners.
After a hiatus of nearly one and a half months, Malaysian Super League (MSL) action resumes this weekend. It is a milestone in itself - for the first time in the league’s 12-year history, the league will go on during the Ramadhan fasting period.
Fresh off their FA Cup triumph, the LionsXII should be raring to go as they aim to improve their lowly position in the league standings.
- Kelantan FA 1-3 LionsXII (FA Cup)
- Terengganu FA 3-2 LionsXII (FA Cup)
- LionsXII 2-1 Terengganu FA (FA Cup)
- Sime Darby 1-2 LionsXII (MSL)
- LionsXII 1-0 Sarawak FA (MSL)
They sit eighth in the 12-team table after playing 10 rounds, four points below the top half of the table and seven adrift of league leaders Pahang FA.
The Singapore representatives had went through a rough patch earlier in the season, going on a seven-match winless run at one point before halting the slump with successive wins against Sarawak FA and Sime Darby.
That proved to be the turning point for the side, as they went on to produce one resilient performance after another which culminated in them lifting the Cup at the expense of favourites Kelantan FA.
The players involved seem to have carried that momentum into the international break – in particular, eight of them played pivotal roles for the Singapore national team in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers when they thrashed Cambodia 4-0 in Phnom Penh and held Japan to a surprise 0-0 draw in Saitama.
Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud was singled out by Japanese media for his heroics in the latter game when he produced a total of 18 saves to keep a valuable clean sheet. The rest of the cast in Madhu Mohana, Nazrul Nazari and Zulfahmi Arifin also stood up to the much-fancied Samurai Blue, keeping them at bay.
That should have propped them up nicely as they return to wearing club colours to face ATM FA on Saturday night.
ATM FA Form
- ATM FA 3-1 PDRM FA (MSL)
- ATM FA 1-1 Sime Darby (MSL)
- Sarawak FA 1-1 ATM FA (MSL)
- ATM FA 1-3 Selangor FA (MSL)
- JDT 2-1 ATM FA (MSL)
Just like the LionsXII, the Gladiators had not started the season in great fashion, languishing in the bottom two after winning just one out of their first seven games. As a result, the long-serving B. Sathianathan bit the bullet as the club took the decision to relieve him of his duties.
Shahrin Abdul Majid was installed as interim coach and he has since overseen a mini-revival. The club’s former assistant coach led them to two draws and a win in his first three games in charge. Successive 1-1 draws against Sarawak and Sime Darby were followed up by a surprising 3-1 triumph over high-flying PDRM FA.
The second win of their campaign should have done the team’s confidence a world of good, given the fact that they are now just one point away from climbing out of the drop zone.
However, having seen their team inactive for the past one and a half months due to the break for FA Cup and internationals, the ATM faithful must be hoping that the team has not lost the precious momentum they were previously building up.
Following the conclusion of the Southeast (SEA) Games, the LionsXII are now bolstered by the returns of Shakir Hamzah, Safirul Sulaiman and Shahfiq Ghani. That should give coach Fandi Ahmad a healthy selection headache for the remainder of the season.
The 53-year-old will be happy to see his internationals returning unscathed, leaving him with a strong squad to choose from. That includes the likes of Faritz Hameed and Shahdan Sulaiman, who are both recovering well from their respective injury lay-offs. Even lynchpin Safuwan Baharudin is back in training, after recovering from a recent personal setback.
Meanwhile in the ATM camp, it looks like Shahrin still has a handy squad at his disposal despite losing the likes of quality players like Amiridzwan Taj Tajuddin, Christie Jayaseelan, and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha during the April transfer window.
Obinna Nwaneri, who won a Treble with Kelantan FA in 2013, marshals the defence, while former Harimau Muda starlet Affize Faisal Mamat and Australian playmaker Mario Karlovic handle things in the middle of the park.
The nippy Venice Elphi provides the ammunition for captain Hairuddin Omar, Nigerian forward Abdulafees Abdulsalam and top scorer Jerry Palacios to breach the opposition’s goal. The latter, whose older brother Wilson plays in the English Premier League with Stoke City, has found the net a total of four times thus far, and is the dangerman the LionsXII must stop if they are to gain three points at Jalan Besar.
Player to Watch: Faris Ramli
Faris has a point to prove coming into this game after a disappointing SEA Games campaign which saw him and club-mate Sahil Suhaimi receive the majority of stick.
Playing at Jalan Besar again just nine days after the Singapore Under-23s’ fateful defeat to their Indonesian counterparts, the 22-year-old will need no motivation to put on a good showing for the local supporters to get them back on his side.
It will be interesting to see how he fares and whether he adds to his current tally of five goals in all competitions thus far.
Last five meetings
- LionsXII 2-1 ATM FA (May’ 14)
- ATM FA 1-2 LionsXII (Feb’ 14)
- ATM FA 4-1 LionsXII (Oct’ 13)
- LionsXII 1-0 ATM FA (Sep’ 13)
- LionsXII 3-1 ATM FA (Apr’ 13)
In the dugout next to Fandi’s will be the little-known figure of Shahrin Abdul Majid, who recently took over the Gladiators’ hot seat. The former Malaysia international has yet to taste defeat during his first three games in charge.
It will be noteworthy to see how he sets up his team against the newly-crowned FA Cup champions, who are still undefeated at home this season.
Facts and Figures
- The LionsXII have the upper hand in terms of head-to-head statistics. Both sides have faced each other eight times in history, with the Singaporeans winning five, drawing one and losing just two.
- The LionsXII have never lost a league encounter against ATM. The two losses came in the Malaysia Cup and away from home. They were beaten 5-4 on penalties after the scores remained locked at 1-1 after regulation time in 2012. The following year, they were gunned down 4-1.
- The LionsXII are unbeaten in seven games at home this season, winning two and drawing two in the league, while winning three in the FA Cup.
- ATM have yet to win away from home in five games this season – drawing and losing twice each in the league, while losing once in the FA Cup.
Jeremy Lim: LionsXII to win 2-0. The senior Singapore internationals are on a high after the Japan draw, while the Young Lions’ members are looking to rebound. ATM will find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Amanda Cheok: LionsXII to win 1-0. Riding high on their FA Cup triumph, they'll want to keep their winning run of form going.
Kenneth Tan: LionsXII to win 2-0. The FA Cup run seems to have done these crop of players a world of good, and I back them to keep up their good form.
The Straits Times’ Deepanraj Ganesan: LionsXII to win 1-0. With most of the players involved against Japan in mid-week, fatigue will be a factor. But I expect them to sneak a late goal and grab all three points.
All images: LionsXII