Fandi: We saw real men play football
Character, determination and discipline - these were attributes LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad lauded after their last-gasp win over Selangor FA on Saturday. On Tuesday night, he had even more reason to highlight them again after their thriller against Johor Darul Takzim.
Trailing 2-0 at half-time, the defending champions displayed remarkable resilience to equalise through quick-fire goals from Khairul Amri and Hafiz Sujad and eventually share the spoils at the Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium.
"Today [before the game], we mentioned to them that it’s about time they changed from boys to men and tonight, we saw real men playing football," Fandi declared at the post-match press conference.
"After we went down, we never gave up and we've got to uphold that character and determination... that is very important for these young players."
Fandi's side got off to a "jittery" start in front of an intimidating capacity crowd, but the Singapore legend rued not getting the victory in the end after seeing Safuwan Baharudin miss a one-on-one chance.
"We managed to come back from two goals down and I thought the discipline was there in the second half," Fandi observed.
"We didn’t want to risk a red card for Isa [Halim, who had been booked], that’s why we took him off [at half-time]. That is the turning point, because we wanted to push Safuwan upfront and inject life into the middle.
"They showed a lot of great character, great discipline and they kept on running and we could have gotten that break - the counter-attacking was so superb!
"I salute them because they fought very, very hard to get this point."
Argentine star Pablo Aimar, whom Fandi described as a "genius", created one and scored the other but was taken off after 65 minutes with the Southern Tigers seemingly cruising - something Fandi suggested was a sign of complacency.
"I thought they were a bit over-confident in the second half, they just wanted to keep [the ball]," Fandi pointed out.
"I knew they wanted to get the third goal but they didn’t have the fire anymore because they thought it was safe. For us, we fight until the end in every game."
Former LionsXII player Baihakki Khaizan claimed that his new team were "unlucky on certain occasions", but admitted he knew just how resilient his ex-teammates were.
"I know this team very well, their never-say-die attitude is always there, whatever the scoreline is," he said. "I knew that at some point of time, I had this feeling that some things would start coming, I could sense it."
With only four points from their first three league games, Baihakki knows his side have not lived up to expectations so far, but he does not want to dwell on past results.
"I don’t want to reason out anything, I just move forward to the next game," the JDT co-captain asserted.
"I think today performance-wise I cannot ask for more, the boys give (went) all-out. Like Fandi said, we should have secured the third goal then everything would have been different.
"Of course at this point in time now I can say I'm disappointed, but we got to look at it in the long run. We don’t look back pinpointing one another, we are mature enough to accept reality and accept losses."
The LionsXII next face Pahang FA on Saturday at home in the second round of the FA Cup.