The FourFourTwo Preview: LionsXII vs PDRM
No more excuses. Well, besides the one where your best centre back has gone to Australia to seek his fortunes two weeks out from the start of the season.
It's a clean slate for LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad this season. Last year's disappointing campaign is behind them, consigned to the annals of football history. This year will be different.
Fueling the optimism are some exciting new recruits in the form of Sahil Suhaimi (Courts Young Lions), Christopher van Huizen (Tampines Rovers), Izzdin Shafiq (Home United) and Wahyudi Wahid (Hougang United). Two key men missing though are attacking midfielder Shahfiq Ghani and full-back Shakir Hamzah, with the duo having returned to Courts Young Lions to prepare for the upcoming Southeast Asian Games. Captain Isa Halim is back to full fitness and will be keen to make up for an injury-plagued campaign last season, but new signing Shahdan Sulaiman is out for at least half a season after his horror leg break during the AFF Suzuki Cup.
PDRM have strengthened too after cantering home with the Malaysian Premier League title last season, bringing in the likes of Nurul Azwan Raya (JDT), Shahurain Abu Samah (PKNS), Dramane Traore (Metalurh Donetsk) and Onorionde Kughegbe (Persebaya Surabaya). The impressive attacking trident from last year has been broken up though, with the departures of Bobby Gonzalez and Chad Charles Souza for Perak. The duo formed a formidable strike trio with Ali Ashfaq last season, scoring a massive 41 goals against their hapless opponents. Central defence remains strong, with the centre back pairing of Malaysian internationals Muslim Ahmad and Afif Amiruddin anchoring the side.
Although this will be PDRM's first match in the Super League since gaining promotion, the two teams met in the POMIS Cup just last month. Both teams seemed evenly matched, with the Afiq Yunos and Madhu Mohana dealing well with high balls from the opposition. It wasn't till Isa's sending that the scales were tipped, with Ali Ashfaq finding more space to wreak havoc. The PDRM striker won a penalty, with strike partner Traore converting for the win.
The LionsXII will be eager to return the favour this Saturday evening, and with home advantage in the bag, three points to kick off the season is not out of the question.
The home team has a few injury concerns ahead of this must-win opening fixture. Afiq came down with gout earlier this week and was hobbling around on crutches before rejoining light training on Thursday. He'll likely be subject to a late fitness test but it will be very much touch-and-go for the centre-back. That means Wahyudi is likely to line up next to Madhu, with Nazrul Nazari deputising at right-back.
Raihan Rahman (ACL) and Shahdan (leg) are still out with long term injuries, though the former is back in light training. Zulfahmi Arifin will watch this game from the stands as he serves his suspension, with Firdaus Kasman likely to come in for him.
PDRM have no particular injury concerns, and should be close to full strength.
Player to watch: Sahil Suhaimi
The LionsXII have strengthened in attack this year after struggling for goals last season. In comes Sahil from Courts Young Lions, the national team striker having joint-top-scored last season (alongside Home United's Fazrul Nawaz) despite missing a large chunk of the season after failing to pass his mandatory 2.4km test! Whether lining up alongside Khairul Amri, replacing him as the lone striker or on the wings, the 22-year-old is sure to provide extra oomph in attack.
Fandi will go up against rookie coach Azman Adnan, as the former Malaysian international embarks on his first full season in charge of PDRM after taking over from Malaysian head coach Dollah Salleh. PDRM's Malaysia Cup run shows that he's more capable though, as the team mixes it up with the big boys this season. "It's an honour to be compared to Dollah," he told FFT in January. "I don't want us to give up easily just because we're a new team in the league."
His opposite counterpart is not backing down either, with Fandi warning his opponents that "we know everything about them". The stage is set.
Facts and figures
- PDRM failed to score only once during the whole of last season, in a 1-0 defeat to Felda United.
- Fandi Ahmad's men conceded a league-high 360 fouls in the MSL last season.
- Khairul Amri top-scored for LionsXII with 7 goals last campaign, but this paled in comparison to Ashfaq's contribution of 17 strikes for PDRM
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: A gritty but morale-boosting win for the LionsXII. 2-1 to the home team.
Gary Koh: LionsXII with a narrow 1-0 win.
Kenneth Tan: 3-1. Madhu, Amri and Sahil to cancel out Traore's lone strike.
Main Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT & asiana.my