Fandi delighted with Safuwan improvement

LionsXII head coach Fandi Ahmad singled out the returning Safuwan Baharudin for praise after his side's 2-1 Malaysia FA Cup win over Terengganu.

It was Safuwan first LionsXII match since the recent conclusion of his three-month loan stint with A-League club Melbourne City.

The 24-year-old did not put a foot wrong in the middle of the park alongside Izzdin Shafiq as LionsXII controlled proceedings in their 2-1 Malaysia FA Cup semi-final first leg victory against Terengganu FA at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.

LionsXII head coach Fandi Ahmad was delighted with the huge improvement the versatile defensive player had made following his loan period Down Under.

“He’s gained a lot of experience in Australia,” Fandi said.

“He did well and was unlucky not to score. He understood his role and played for the team.”  

The former national striker further elaborated on the differences he saw in the midfielder’s game last night, compared to last season.

“Last year, he liked to dribble and go forward, where he ended up losing the ball sometimes,” he continued.

“Nowadays he is more of a team player, who is happy to keep passing the ball short and look up to find an opportunity to play the penetrative pass.

“He knows where his position in centre midfield is, which is very crucial because we cannot have two midfielders attacking at the same time.”

Fandi felt Safuwan and Izzdin did enough to dominate the midfield with Terengganu intent to sit back for the first leg.

“The partnership overall was good, although I hope Safuwan can move a bit more and Izzdin can support more,” he said.

“Terengganu were more defensive with two midfielders sitting back, with only Gustavo (Lopez) going forward.”

Safuwan looks likely to continue his midfield role after Fandi revealed the central defensive partnership of Madhu Mohana and Zulfahmi Arifin would continue as they look to keep out Paulo Rangel, who was suspended for the first leg.

“Rangel is the fox in the box, who is physically strong and technically sound, so we need to have close contact and not give him any space,” the LionsXII head coach said.

“The Madhu-Zulfahmi combination has been fantastic for us, and Zul is enjoying his game at centre back.”

Despite conceding a free kick goal from Lopez just before the break, Fandi urged his charges to keep the faith and turn their attentions to securing a place in the Cup final at the end of the month.

“We need to believe we can still make it through,” he said.

“We need to protect the lead and try to get an early goal.”