The FourFourTwo Preview: LionsXII vs Terengganu FA

Malaysia FA Cup | Jalan Besar Stadium | Sat 9 May | 7.45pm

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A coveted opportunity to reach a first-ever cup final for the LionsXII.

The lowdown

As the saying goes, after every storm comes a rainbow. Three weeks ago, the LionsXII were on the receiving end of their worst-ever defeat in their four-year history – blown away 4-0 by arch-rivals in their Shah Alam den.

Their fortunes slowly improved after that chastening loss as Singapore's representatives picked up three straight wins in all competitions – cruising past Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II 4-0 on aggregate to reach the FA Cup semi-finals, before edging Sarawak FA 1-0 and Sime Darby 2-1 in the league.

That also marked the first time the LionsXII have won two league games in a row under Fandi – closing the gap between them and the top half to just four points. 

Putting the league aside, the FA Cup run has been something to savour for the LionsXII faithful. They dispatched PB Melayu Kedah and KL SPA Putrajaya with relative ease, before overcoming JDT II over two legs – eclipsing their best-ever finish which was reaching the quarter-finals in their inaugural season in 2012.

That set up a tantalizing two-legged semi-final clash with old nemesis Terengganu FA, who triumphed in 180 minutes back then to send Shahril Ishak and company crashing out.

The first leg will be played at Jalan Besar Stadium on May 9 and the second leg will be at the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium on May 16.

Terangganu seemed to have hit a rut recently after a promising start to the season, which saw them picking up four wins and two draws in the first seven league games. A shock 3-1 loss at home to promoted Felda United marked the start of a three-game losing streak, which saw them subsequently falling to PDRM FA 3-1 and Pahang FA 3-2.

At least the FA Cup can offer some solace for Abdul Rahman Ibrahim’s men – having reached the last four after beating Melaka United 3-1, overcoming Selangor FA 3-1 via two extra-time goals and overpowering Perak FA 3-1 over two legs. They will now surely be looking to reclaim the trophy which they won back in 2010 and 2011.

Another positive to take is that new signing Issey Nakajima-Farran is settling into life well since his transfer to the club in the April transfer window, having scored two goals in all competitions so far. The Canadian international should not be unfamiliar with football fans in Singapore, having featured for Albirex Niigata (S) in the S.League during 2005 to 2006 – scoring 26 goals in 45 appearances.

His availability is all the more crucial, given the fact that key forward Paulo Rangel is suspended for this first leg clash. Meanwhile another new signing, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, is eligible to take part despite being involved in ATM FA’s first-round defeat to T-Team.

The Issey-Mat Yo partnership upfront will certainly be one to watch out for, with capable supply from midfield via the likes of Zairo Anuar, Ismail Faruqi and Gustavo Lopez. It is imperative that the LionsXII stop them and take any form of lead going into the intimidating second leg in Kuala Terengganu, in order to stand a realistic chance of reaching the final.

Team news

There are no major concerns for the LionsXII going into this game.

Madhu Mohana has returned from his one-game suspension while Safuwan Baharudin is recovering well from the back injury that saw his loan stint at Melbourne City cut short. Madhu is expected to replace Izzdin Shafiq in defence but Safuwan looks likely to join the fierce battle for places in midfield, where Shahdan Sulaiman is in contention for his first start of the season after coming on as a late substitute against Sime Darby.

Meanwhile, Khairul Nizam, who missed that game due to a thigh strain, looks to have an extra spring in his step during training and should reprise his partnership upfront with half-brother Khairul Amri.

Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi and Christopher Van Huizen are also back in the camp after being away for centralized training with the Singapore Under-23s, in preparation for the upcoming SEA Games.

Long-term injury victims Afiq Yunos and Samuel Benjamin are the only definite absentees, while Faritz Hameed recovers from his motorcycle accident.

Safuwan Baharudin could be back in the LionsXII squad for the first time this season. Photo: WX Lim

Player to watch: Safuwan Baharudin  

Will he play, or won’t he? That’s perhaps the biggest question going into this game.

The 23-year-old has showed no signs of the back injury in training, which was bothering him towards the end of his time in Melbourne, and should be given the nod for a first appearance this season by Fandi.

His presence will be crucial in shackling the likes of Issey and Norshahrul in the Terengganu attack. It will be interesting to see how he fares in his first game back in the LionsXII jersey since last September. 

The coaches

Fandi will square off against Abdul Rahman Ibrahim once again, hoping to nick a first win over his opponent. Since taking over the LionsXII hotseat last year, the national legend has so far failed to get victories against the Terengganu tactician.

The wily 69-year-old, who has 30 over years of experience in coaching, seems to have the right game plan whenever taking on the LionsXII. During his previous stint at Selangor PKNS, he also inspired the unfancied outfit to three wins in five head-to-heads.

Facts and figures

  • The head-to-head records between both teams is fairly even – each side has picked up the win three times each, while the other two matches ended up in draws.
  • The LionsXII have yet to win in their last three head-to-head encounters.
  • The LionsXII are unbeaten at home this season – in the league, they beat PDRM 5-3 and Sarawak 1-0, while holding Terengganu and JDT to draws; in the FA Cup, they dispatched KL SPA Putrajaya and JDT II.  
  • Terengganu are heavily reliant on Rangel in their quest for goals, with the hotshot responsible for 11 out of their 24 goals in all competitions this season. Ismail Faruqi and Vincent Bikana follow behind with three apiece.
  • In contrast, things are more evenly spread out for the LionsXII – with Gabriel Quak and Amri hitting four, while Nizam, Faris and Sahil follow with three each.
  • Over 70% of Terengganu’s goals (17 out of 24) this season have been scored in the second half.

FourFourTwo predictions Editor Zee Ko: Time for Fandi to make some history of his own. A first win over his Terangganu counterpart for this home leg – 2-1 to the LionsXII.

Kenneth Tan: Do not let Terengganu’s indifferent form of late fool you. It’s always a hard task taking on an outfit managed by Abdul Rahman Ibrahim and I fancy them stealing a 1-1 draw away from Jalan Besar.

Main Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo & Ahmad Ridhuan/