The FourFourTwo Preview: LionsXII vs Kelantan FA
A repeat of that epic FA Cup final.
- PDRM FA 2-1 LionsXII (MSL)
- ATM FA 1-1 LionsXII (MSL)
- LionsXII 3-1 ATM FA (MSL)
- Kelantan FA 1-3 LionsXII (FA Cup)
- Terengganu FA 3-2 LionsXII (FA Cup)
KELANTAN FA FORM
- Sime Darby 1-1 Kelantan FA (MSL)
- Kelantan FA 1-3 LionsXII (FA Cup)
- Kelantan FA 3-1 Pahang FA (FA Cup)
- Pahang 1-0 Kelantan FA (FA Cup)
- Sarawak FA 3-2 Kelantan FA (MSL)
Just 41 days on from the 2015 Malaysia FA Cup final, the two finalists meet again at the Jalan Besar Stadium this Saturday night in a Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash.
The return to MSL action has not been exactly the smoothest for the eventual Cup winners LionsXII, as they have claimed just one win in three matches.
After a 3-1 victory at home against ATM FA, they travelled to Paroi looking for a second successive win against relegation-threatened opponents in three days. However they were held to an unexpected 1-1 draw, courtesy of a dubious penalty call which went against them.
It was destination Shah Alam next for the challenge of PDRM FA but the three points continued to elude them. Despite dominating most of the 90 minutes, it was the hosts who ran out winners on the night thanks to Dramane Traore’s brace.
The poor run of results mean the Singaporeans remain in the bottom half of the table coming into this second part of the league season. They are now currently ranked seventh in the table, four adrift of sixth-placed PDRM and seven away from third-placed Selangor FA.
With aspirations of attaining at least a top half finish, they have to improve on their consistency as they approach these last nine games of the season. The good news is that they have two home games in four days to conclude this taxing Ramadhan period, before the league resumes on August 2.
First up is Kelantan FA, who will surely relish a chance of avenging the shock 3-1 defeat at Bukit Jalil on May 23. Despite clearly being the dominant side, a late Sahil Suhaimi brace meant the Cup headed for across the border instead.
However since that fateful night, the Red Warriors have not seen much competitive action. With their state government banning all football matches in Kota Bahru during Ramadhan, it meant their home matches against Sime Darby and ATM FA had to be rescheduled to later dates.
Thus they had to be content with just one game since, in which they claimed a 1-1 draw away at Sime Darby courtesy of Gilmar’s equalizer 11 minutes into injury time. The result means they continue to be in a perilous position, just a point above the drop zone although they have two games in hand.
With away games against the LionsXII and PDRM coming up in the space of four days, the situation certainly does not look good for the 2011 and 2012 league champions.
Firdaus Kasman is suspended for the LionsXII after accumulating three yellow cards, but there is still a wealth of options in midfield with Safuwan Baharudin, Izzdin Shafiq, Shahdan Sulaiman and Safirul Sulaiman all available for selection.
Zulfahmi Arifin is also out after failing to recover from his ankle injury, joining long term injury victims Afiq Yunos, Samuel Benjamin and Shahfiq Ghani on the sidelines. Shakir Hamzah is expected to shift in to central defence, with Hafiz Abu Sujad moving back to left-back.
ALSO ON FFT.COM
Up front, Khairul Amri will be itching to get back to scoring ways after netting just once in the league this season. It will be interesting to see who partners him though – although half-brother Khairul Nizam has been getting the nod of late, coach Fandi Ahmad may well be tempted to field Sahil who was the scourge of Kelantan the last time out.
Whoever plays will prove crucial in breaking down the Kelantan defence, which will be missing the services of key defender Jonathan McKain through suspension. The situation is somewhat healthier in the attacking third for the Red Warriors, though.
Winger Wan Zaharulnizam will be available once again after returning from a one-match suspension and should give the LionsXII some problems down the flanks along with Wan Zack Haiqal, who scored the equaliser in the Cup final.
Meanwhile, big Nigerian forward Austin Amutu could force himself into the starting eleven, after staying clear of the injury problems which plagued his first two months at the club. If that happens, either Gilmar or Erwin Carrillo will make way for the bench.
Key Battle: Izzdin Shafiq vs Badhri Radzi
While the focus is on how Madhu Mohana and company will cope with Kelantan’s foreign forwards, the decisive battle could well be fought in midfield where Izzdin will go head to head against Kelantan captain Badhri.
With his ability to hit mean free kicks and play defence-splitting passes, the man popularly known as “Piya” is the heartbeat of the Kelantan midfield. However, as Izzdin proved in the Cup final, the 33-year-old can be silenced.
The LionsXII midfielder, who has played in all 20 games in all competitions so far this season, will need to replicate his heroics from that night to prevent the likes of Amutu and Gilmar from receiving their ammunition.
In Jalan Besar’s away dugout is the experienced Azraai Khor who has more than 20 years of coaching experience in Malaysian football.
Although he is well known for his feats at Kedah FA, where he became the only coach to win the Treble of the Malaysian Super League, FA Cup and Malaysia Cup in successive seasons in 2006/2007 and 2007/2008, the last couple of years have not gone as smoothly for the 62-year-old.
After failing to keep T-Team in the top flight last night, he packed his bags for Brazil to upgrade his coaching skills before returning to take up the Kelantan hot seat back in April. While he has inspired the Red Warriors to a Cup final finish, things are not as cosy back in the league where they have won just one of the six games under him.
With the club so close to the drop zone, Azraai will surely be looking to avoid hearing the dreaded “R” (relegation) word for a second successive season.
Facts and Figures
- Kelantan have the upper hand in terms of head-to-head records between both teams. Both sides have faced each other eight times in their history, with the Red Warriors coming up on top six times compared to the LionsXII’s two.
- The form book favours the LionsXII – they have lost just once in their last five league matches, while Kelantan lost three over the same period.
- The LionsXII are unbeaten in eight games at home this season – winning three and drawing two in the league, while winning three in the FA Cup.
- Kelantan have won only twice away from home in nine games this season – winning one, drawing two and losing three in the league, while winning one, drawing one and losing once in the FA Cup.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: How sweet would a repeat of the FA Cup final be? I'm backing the home team to prove that their cup win was no fluke with an identical 3-1 scoreline.
Kenneth Tan: 2-1 to the LionsXII. Kelantan will surely struggle in defence with the absence of McKain, so expect the Singaporeans to return to winning ways in the league.
Yahoo Sports’ Teng Kiat: 2-0 to the LionsXII. Kelantan's away form has been woeful and the LionsXII should have enough at home to take victory. Backing Amri to score again in the league and also a clean sheet for Izwan Mahbud.
The New Paper's Haiqal Sari: I believe the loss to PDRM was just a freak result, and the results will come back. Kelantan haven't been doing too well, so a repeat of the FA Cup win is surely on the cards. 2-0