Fandi set to ring in changes for Kelantan clash

The LionsXII could be missing up to four key players for their second game of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) season.

Coach Fandi Ahmad is set for a minor reshuffle of the side that beat PDRM convincingly ahead of their next test against Kelantan FA away this Saturday.

Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi will not travel as they are involved with the Singapore National Under-23 team’s international friendly match against Japan Under-22s on the same evening.

Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and skipper Isa Halim are also major doubts for the fixture in Kota Bharu as they are nursing a right shoulder injury and a swollen right knee respectively.

Neither participated in full training during the pre-match preparations at Yishun Stadium on Thursday.

Izwan sat out of the entire session while Isa only did some supervised light running around the pitch.

Izwan Mahbud is a doubt for this weekend's game. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Fandi hopes that the rest of the squad can step up if he does eventually lose all four first-teamers this weekend.

“Given the situation we are facing, we have to make do with what we can,” Fandi told FourFourTwo after training on Thursday.

“It is difficult, but with true teamwork and sheer determination, we can overcome the absences and disadvantages to get a result.”

Such was the concern over Izwan’s injury that the two backup goalkeepers, Khairulhin Khalid and Zharfan Rohaizad, will also be part of the travelling party up north on Friday.

Isa’s potential absence could be offset by the return of Zulfahmi Arifin after the latter served out a one-match suspension carried over from last year.

The 24-year-old’s tackling and passing qualities could be useful as the LionsXII are set to face a formidable Kelantan side spearheaded by Colombian striker Erwin Carrillo and Malaysian international Badhri Radzi.

The Red Warriors also won their opening league fixture against Angkatan Tentera Malaysia 2-0 away in Petaling Jaya last Saturday, with Carrillo and Noor Hazrul Mustafa among the scorers.

Zulfahmi Arifin returns from suspension this week. Photo: Weixiang Lim

Fandi admitted that a repeat of the LionsXII's swashbuckling attacking display could be risky in front of an expected 40,000-strong sell-out at Sultan Muhammad VI Stadium this weekend.

“We have to change the way we play as we cannot afford to be too attack-minded,” he said.

“Yet we also have to be careful not to make too many tweaks that could disrupt the momentum.”

Zulfahmi’s defensive qualities could also see him drop back as a centre-back should either Madhu Mohana or Afiq Yunos suffer any injury during the match.

“Without some of our forwards, we need to have a lot of discipline in defence and midfield,” Fandi said.

“The inclusion of Zul is a boost, but he was recently out for 10 days and lacking match fitness.

“If he is able to complete at least 60 to 70 minutes against Kelantan, it will be good for us. We tried him at centre-back during some friendly matches and he excelled for us there.”

Khairul Nizam, Syafiq Zainal and Christopher van Huizen are possible contenders to take the left midfield slot vacated by Faris.