LionsXII vs Pahang FA: Will the hosts live to fight another day?
Possibly the last ever match for the Singapore team.
It's been a most disappointing week for the LionsXII after the events of Tuesday night.
On the pitch, they were walloped 4-1. Off it, they were left dumbfounded by the news that they would no longer compete in Malaysian competitions from 2016 onwards. Talk about a double blow...
As much as the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) are painting a picture where the players are fully focused on this upcoming second leg, surely there will be concern about their immediate footballing futures. Will they be able to put aside all these distractions and put on a good show on Saturday night?
In the first leg at the Darul Makmur Stadium, the Singaporeans put in a below-par display and were deservedly punished by a rampant Pahang FA side. After Izwan Mahbud could only help Hafiz Kamal’s inswinging free kick into his own net early just seven minutes in, the Tok Gajah duly put daylight between the two sides with three goals in 13 second-half minutes.
Matias Conti tapped home Azamuddin Akil’s left-wing cross and Dickson Nwakaeme lashed a belter into the top corner from just inside the box before substitute R Gopinathan got on the act by finishing coolly past the onrushing Izwan via Azamuddin’s through pass.
The margin of the defeat could have been larger for the LionsXII if the crossbar did not come to their rescue twice. However there are somehow still in this tie after Safuwan Baharudin headed Zulfahmi Arifin’s long ball in with the last action of the game.
A three-goal deficit is still a big mountain to climb for Fandi Ahmad’s boys in the second leg, but they will take a lot of confidence from their previous league encounters against the same side at Jalan Besar Stadium over the years.
A 3-0 win in 2013 under predecessor V Sundramoorthy was followed up by an emphatic 4-1 rout the following year, with Sufian Anuar famously netting a late hat-trick. In 2015, the LionXII came out tops again with a 4-2 win.
Can they do it all over again this time round, or will it prove to be their last-ever game in Malaysia? We shall have to wait and see…
After the shattering defeat on Tuesday, Fandi hinted that he would make a few changes to the LionsXII starting 11.
It remains to be seen who will be culled, although one of them could be right-back Faritz Hameed after three of the four Pahang goals came down his side. What is certain though is that midfielder enforcer Izzdin Shafiq is back after serving a one-match suspension and should slot back into the starting line-up.
Meanwhile Sufian is likely to join Khairul Amri on the sidelines after sustaining a gluteus injury in the first leg. Thus the responsibility to score goals will fall on the shoulders of Sahil Suhaimi and Khairul Nizam, although the latter is still rated not ‘100% fit’ yet and is likely to play the role of an impact substitute again.
As for Pahang, there shouldn't be much change with Conti and Nwakaeme pairing up once again in attack to create trouble for the LionsXII backline.
The only uncertainty will be on the left side of midfield where R Surendran and Gopinathan are equally on form at the moment.
Player to Watch: Faris Ramli
If the LionsXII want to pull off a miraculous comeback, they will need Faris to improve on a lacklustre performance the last time out and rediscover the form which made him one of the most feared wingers in Malaysia.
The 23-year-old, who has 10 goals and eight assists to his name this season, has always relished playing against Pahang. His first-ever LionsXII goal came in the 3-0 win against them in 2013 and he also scored a brace in the most recent 4-2 victory back in August.
In total he has scored five goals against the Tok Gajah over the years.
At the end of the 90 minutes, the battle between two good friends in LionsXII’s Fandi Ahmad and Pahang’s Zainal Abidin Hassan will be decided – with only one of them still having the chance to chase their Cup dreams.
Having won the Cup five times as a player, the former must somehow motivate his boys to put in their best display of the season in order to replicate the feat for the first time from the dugout.
Facts and Figures
- Pahang have the slight upper hand in terms of head-to-head records. In 12 matches, they won six times, the LionsXII have won five while the other match ended up in a draw.
- LionsXII are still unbeaten in 17 games at home this season – winning eight and drawing three in the league, winning three in the FA Cup, while winning twice and drawing once in the Malaysia Cup.
- In six home encounters against Pahang, the LionsXII have won four times and lost twice.
FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: LionsXII 3 Pahang 0. Football can be a frustrating game most of the time, but its unpredictability goes both ways. Don't put it past the hosts to engineer a famous win.
Sunny Mahtani: LionsXII 1 Pahang 2. The Singaporean side will have to attack to prolong their stay in Malaysian football but that could backfire against a physically superior Pahang.
Kenneth Tan: LionsXII 3 Pahang 1. A bittersweet victory for Fandi’s boys, ultimately proving futile in their bid to overturn the heavy first-leg deficit.
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Photos: Football Association of Singapore