LionsXII 1 Kedah FA 1: Hosts endure lacklustre Malaysia Cup opener

The LionsXII made a disappointing start to their 2015 Malaysia Cup campaign, held 1-1 by Malaysia Premier League (MPL) champions Kedah FA at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.

Sandro da Silva Mendonca’s early opener for Kedah was cancelled out by Shahdan Sulaiman in the first half, but the LionsXII were unable to grab a winner in front of 5,266 spectators.

Despite the hosts enjoying a 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions at home this season, Kedah were determined to start off on a good note and they carved out the first opening on four minutes.

Nigerian forward Chidi Edeh got the better of his marker just outside the box, but was unable to get his shot on target.

It was LionsXII’s turn seven minutes later when Christopher Van Huizen outwitted his marker to create shooting space from 25 yards out, but his resulting effort flew inches wide of the left-hand post.

That let-off gave Kedah a psychological boost as they went on to open the scoring in the 16th minute.

Playmaker Sandro exchanged quick passes with Edeh before giving Izwan Mahbud no chance in goals by lashing in a stunner from 30 yards out.

Credit to the LionsXII, who were unperturbed by the setback and restored parity two minutes later.

Van Huizen got the better of Shafizan Hashim down the right flank before cutting it back for Shahdan, whose resulting shot took a deflection and deceived Abdul Hadi Hamid in the Kedah goal.

Buoyed by the equaliser, LionsXII could have gone into the lead in the 23rd minute but Safuwan Baharudin was unable to convert from Faris Ramli’s left-wing cross.

There was a scare at the back for the LionsXII 13 minutes later when Van Huizen brought down Farhan Roslan just outside the area, but fortunately Izwan Mahbud was able to smother Sandro’s resulting free-kick.

Safuwan then spurned another opportunity four minutes before the break as he headed over from Zulfahmi Arifin’s deep free-kick.

After an end-to-end first 45 minutes, the second half turned out to be a drab affair with both sides failing to create clear-cut chances.

Khairul Nizam and Faritz Hameed were introduced for Shahdan and Van Huizen for the last half hour, with LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad trying to inject more pace and urgency into his attack.

It nearly proved to be a tactical masterstroke in the 67th minute as Nizam climbed above his marker to meet Faritz’s right-wing cross, but he was unable to put his resulting header on target.

Sahil Suhaimi was thrown on for the final 15 minutes, but there was no getting past a solid Kedah backline led by captain Khairul Helmi Johari.

The visitors could even have stolen the three points on 84 minutes when Liridon Krasniqi rounded Izwan near the byline, but his cutback failed to find his forwards.

Tan Cheng Hoe’s men were then reduced to 10 men right before the end with substitute Rizal Ghazali sent off for a second bookable offence, but there was not enough time for the LionsXII to find the match-winning goal.

In the end, they had to share the spoils with a Kedah side who would have been the happier team with the result.

The LionsXII will next travel to Pasir Gudang next Saturday to take on Johor Darul Ta’zim II in search of their first win in Group A.

Photo: Football Association of Singapore