Fandi cautious as LionsXII take on wobbly Pahang
Pahang FA are not having the best of campaigns so far this season, as they find themselves in unfamiliar territory at the bottom half of the Malaysia Super League.
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It took them until March to finally record their first domestic win of the season when they defeated Sime Darby 2-0 at home, but they remain third-from-bottom after five rounds as they lurk dangerously outside the relegation zone.
Despite their poor league form, LionsXII head coach Fandi Ahmad has cautioned against taking the Tok Gajahs lightly when the LionsXII visit their opponents in Kuantan on Saturday.
“Pahang looked fatigued this season, possibly due to their commitments in the AFC Cup,” he told FourFourTwo after training on Thursday.
“They have not been winning, but they will be looking refreshed and recharged following a 10-day international break.”
With the Pahang fixture the first of six Malaysian league and cup matches this month, the impetus is on the LionsXII to kickstart a busy period with a positive result.
Fandi admitted it would not be a walk in the park as they will have to contend with direct play from the reigning Malaysia Cup champions.
He advocated tactical caution as he singled out local midfielders Hafiz Kamal and R. Gopinathan as the ones who could do the most damage to his team.
“We have to be aware of our surroundings, as Hafiz and Gopi are able to give us problems with their abilities to get past players,” he said.
“Sometimes Pahang will be looking to bypass the massed opponents by playing direct balls from defence to their forwards up front, so we have to play tight to frustrate them.”
With Afiq Yunos out of the remainder of the league campaign after injuring his knee on international duty last week, Zulfahmi Arifin and Madhu Mohana will be entrusted to keep things tight at the heart of the LionsXII defence.
The former will be tasked to keep powerful Nigerian striker Dickson Nwakaeme quiet, and his coach believes he has what it takes to excel in this mission.
“Zul has shown himself to be a competent defender,” Fandi said.
“He can jump, is speedy in interception and a good tackler and distributor of the ball.”
With Madhu moving to central defence and regular right-back Nazrul Nazari a week away from regaining full fitness, Faritz Hameed could make his first appearance this season in his favoured position on Saturday.
Having recovered from successive injury issues, the full-back played 45 minutes for a combined LionsXII-Courts Young Lions team in their 7-1 win over social league side Jungfrau Punggol on Tuesday.
Faritz looks set to be the fourth player to be deployed at right-back and could make the position his own with a good showing following his lengthy absence from competitive action.
“Faritz looked sharp and competent during the minutes he played in that friendly, but the only thing I am uncertain of is his match fitness as he has been out for a long time,” Fandi said.
With defensive options thin, Faris Azienuddin will join the travelling party as a back-up after returning from the Singapore Under-22s’ disappointing Asian qualifying campaign earlier this week.
Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo