Defiant Fandi targets Malaysia Cup final for LionsXII

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad wants his side to rise above the off-field distractions and pull off a miraculous fightback against Pahang FA on Saturday night.

Tuesday night’s announcement that the LionsXII will sit out all Malaysia football competitions from 2016 onwards added salt to their wounds after a 4-1 thrashing by Pahang FA at the Darul Makmur Stadium in the first leg of the Malaysia Cup quarter-final tie.

That had left the players fearing for their footballing futures and they were involved in an emergency meeting with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) bigwigs, which lasted almost two hours before training kicked off at Thursday evening at the ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio.

Despite these unwanted off-the-field distractions, coach Fandi Ahmad is not entertaining any thought of an early exit from the competition – instead setting his targets high for the team ahead of the upcoming second leg against the Tok Gajah at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

“Our focus is definitely on this game,” insisted the 53-year-old. “This is more important than next year because whatever happens will decide our fate for this season.

“We had a chat with them after hearing the news and that does not hinder our preparations because we’re one happy family. We gave them some assurance and they’re now not bothered by what’s happening outside the field.”

“It won’t be easy (to come back from 4-1 down), but nothing is impossible in football. We have a good record with them at Jalan Besar, winning 4-1 and 4-2 for the past two seasons. If we put our hearts and souls into this, we will be able to do it.”

“I’m not even looking at the semi-finals; I want to go to the final at least. That’s our target and I’m confident of turning the tables.”

Should the LionsXII fail to win by three goals, this will be their last-ever match in Malaysian football.

Reflecting on four eventful years with the club where he won the 2013 Malaysia Super League (MSL) title and the 2015 Malaysia FA Cup, goalkeeper and captain Izwan Mahbud admitted it would be an emotional night on Saturday in front of the fans who have supported them along the way.

“If it’s going to be our last game, it would mean so much to me,” said the 25-year-old. “Touch wood, hopefully that won’t be the case for us.

“In our minds, we still want to go far in this tournament and win in front of our supportive home fans. We’ll go into the game trying our best to win; as for the score line, let’s not think about it yet.

“Let’s just play and get the ball into the net. Coach wants us to go to the final, so we’ll fight for each other to achieve that.”

Given everything that has preceded in this past week, Fandi admitted it was needless to motivate the boys ahead of this massive clash against Zainal Abidin Hassan’s side.

“Everyone knows how crucial this game is, so there’s no need for me to do anything else,” he said. “Everyone wants to play in this game because this could be our last game.

“They will come out fighting with the good leadership of Izwan (Mahbud) and Safuwan (Baharudin). Besides scoring an early goal, it’s also important that the fans come down to support us for this important game.

“Hopefully it’ll a full house cheering us on and we’ll win this game by a big margin for them.”

Photo: Football Association of Singapore