Faris' showstopper seals LionsXII victory
It was one of those moments football fans live for.
LionsXII winger Faris Ramli had been largely anonymous for 45 minutes in Sunday night’s Malaysia Super League (MSL) clash against Felda United at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
But with the clock ticking down in first-half stoppage time, and with the score locked at 1-1, something needed to be done. Someone had to step up. The home crowd, unusually silent throughout, was waiting for a moment of inspiration.
And then it came.
With the ball at his feet on the edge of the box, Faris had nowhere to turn. He had Fighters left-back Adib Aizuddin Abdul Latiff, his marker, on his left and the imposing figure of centre back Bojan Miladinovic right in front of him. Faris was stuck.
Or at least it seemed like he was. Did the 22-year-old pass the ball to a teammate? No, he didn’t. He took one touch to evade Adib with a quick burst of speed before utilising his low centre of gravity to shimmy to his left, leaving Miladinovic chasing shadows.
The two Malaysians were made to look like mannequins as Faris shaped up to shoot inside the box, placing his left-foot effort past Felda keeper Farizal Harun.
It was Faris’ sixth goal in the league, and eighth in all competitions, making him LionsXII’s top marksman. It was also his third in as many games and the modest Jalan Besar crowd, which was well short of its 8,000 capacity, came to life in rapturous applause.
“I had Nazrul (Nazari) and (Khairul) Nizam around me and I could have passed to them,” said Faris, reflecting on his wonder goal.
“But I just made use of Nizam’s overlapping run, and I saw space in between the two defenders, so I just went for it.
“But I didn’t play well throughout the match. I was limping.
“Overall, though, I think I did OK, I created a few chances for my teammates, and what’s most important now is for us to finish in the top four so that we will be seeded in the Malaysia Cup.
“If I can make the team look good, then that’s enough.”
The match got off to a poor start for LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad and his troops, as Felda striker Makeche Ndumba almost gave the Kuala Lumpur side an early lead.
Pouncing on Nazrul Nazari’s poor back pass, the five-goal Australian could only poke the ball wide as Izwan Mahbud showed his class by making himself big, putting Makeche off.
But the Fighters took the lead on 13 minutes, Liberian playmaker Zah Rahan Krangar’s lofted pass sailing perfectly over a stranded Izwan and finding evergreen Indra Putra Mahayuddin, who made it 1-0 to the away side.
But the Singaporeans were soon on the ascendancy, as first Shakir Hamzah – brilliant all night, first as a left-back and then in the heart of defence in the second half – and then Khairul Amri came close to equalising.
In the 24th minute, Adib’s late, harsh challenge – where referee Wan Mohd Tamizi Wan Ibrahim surprisingly kept his cards in his pocket – brought down Amri 20 metres from goal, with the striker clean through.
The classy Zulfahmi Arifin then stepped up and his cultured left foot did the rest of the work, sending the ball around the wall and into the bottom corner.
A flurry of attack followed before and after Faris’ strike, with Nizam missing a number of sitters, the most glaring of which was a one-on-one after the targetman was put through on goal by a brilliant through ball from Shakir Hamzah after a lung-bursting 40-metre run.
Substitute Sahil Suhaimi almost added a third in the dying seconds of the game, but he just couldn’t reach for the ball after beating defender Firdaus Fauzi inside the box.
With big tests against Terengganu, Pahang and Johor Darul Ta’zim coming quick and fast in the next three games over seven days, Fandi has his eyes set on securing the team’s top four-status ahead of the Malaysia Cup.
That would mean they avoid the rest of the top three in the group stage, which begins at the end of the league season.
Fandi, speaking at the post-match press conference, said: “We were lethargic and wasteful. We created around seven chances tonight, but we were very wasteful.
“Elsewhere on the pitch, we weren’t at our best. There were some moments when we were ball watching, and there were some mistakes when in possession.
“As always, we don’t like to be behind, but we had to come back and that showed our character.
“Honestly, we could have scored three, four goals if we took our chances, but I care about the result, not the performance.
“Our target right now is to finish in the top four, our eyes are on the top four, but if we can finish higher, then that would be good.”
Photo courtesy of LionsXII