Amri ready to exorcise ghosts of 2012

LionsXII forward Khairul Amri wants to erase the memories of the 2012 Malaysia Cup semi-final exit to ATM FA by sealing their passage into this year’s Malaysia FA Cup final.

Sent on as a 57th-minute substitute for Agu Casmir, then-coach V Sundramoorthy’s instructions to Amri were simple – keep possession and try to wind down the clock.

Leading 2-1 on aggregate courtesy of Agu’s first-half strike, the LionsXII were well-poised to progress into the Malaysia Cup final. That was till disaster struck in the sixth minute of injury time.

Amri lost the ball in the attacking third which resulted in the Gladiators breaking forward in numbers, as Marlon James briefly nodded home the equaliser via an inch-perfect right-wing cross.

That extended the game till extra time and subsequently penalties, where the LionsXII lost a battle of nerves.

Speaking to FourFourTwo on Wednesday evening on the sidelines of Geylang Field, Amri reflected on what could have been.

“I already thought we’re going to make it to the final,” he said.

“We were confident that we can do it before and even during the game.  When I came on in the second half, Sundram told me just to bring the ball, shield it and waste time.

“I remember I lost the ball at the far end, from there they went forward and scored. During penalties, we should have won if Bai (Baihakki Khaizan) had converted, but that’s football – sometimes it comes down all to luck.”

“It was a shit feeling and now I don’t want to be in that situation again.”

Fast forward three years, the LionsXII are once again on the cusp of a cup final after overcoming Teregganu FA 2-1 in the first leg of the Malaysia FA Cup semi-finals.

If in a similar situation again, Amri admitted he would not hesitate to commit a professional foul to ensure his side kept the advantage.

“Right now I don’t have a yellow card in this competition so I don’t mind taking one,” said the 30-year-old.

“This time round, I will put my body in between and try to stop them or waste time.”

The second leg will be played at Terengganu’s plush new home, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abdin Stadium, this Saturday night but Amri believes it will do little to change their approach for this game.

“We’ve never played at their new stadium but we just have to go in with the right mind because one goal can change the whole game,” he insisted.

“We all know that with the support of their home fans, they will get very pumped up for the game so we need to plan carefully how we’re supposed to play.

“If we’re still leading, then we have to take our time, go down and try to intimidate them. In the last 10 minutes, the only thing to do is to really put our bodies on the line – shield and run for every ball till we cannot take it.”

Stopping Gustavo Lopez

The Turtles will welcome back 12-goal hitman Paulo Rangel and possibly new signing Issey Nakajima-Farran, but Amri believes the key to stifle them is to stop Argentine playmaker Gustavo Lopez from dictating the tempo.

“By now, everyone know this Gustavo – he’s good like Xavi or (Andres) Iniesta type,” he said.

“We thought he’s slow but with the ball, he’s like so fast so we need to try to close that. Overall they are technically and tactically good.

“They don’t play long ball; they play these short passes which is very irritating for us.

“Whenever we about to challenge, they pass. So the key here is to try to stay compact and let them pump the ball up.

“We have good players at the back so I think we can avoid them from playing in the middle. From there, we soak the pressure and go on the break.”

It has been a peculiar season for Amri who remains the LionsXII's joint-top scorer with four goals despite what is now on a six-game goal drought.

“It’s frustrating lah; I’m a striker and I love to score,” he said.

“But it was only after the 4-0 defeat to Selangor (FA), we started to enjoy back our football. We’ve been playing well since, so it doesn’t really matter if I don’t score.

“In fact a 0-0 result will be okay for us and hopefully we can qualify for a cup final for the first time.”