LionsXII 2 Terengganu FA 1: First half strikes earn hosts narrow advantage

An attacking LionsXII display saw Fandi's men come away with a 2-1 Malaysia FA Cup semi-final first leg win over Terengganu on Saturday night.

Strikes from Khairul Nizam and Faris Ramli presented the hosts with an early lead, before Gustavo Lopez grabbed a valuable away goal to give the Turtles some hope ahead of the second leg next weekend.

There were three changes to the LionsXII lineup that started the 2-1 victory against Sime Darby the last time out – with Madhu Mohana, Safuwan Baharudin and Faris Ramli coming in for Raihan Rahman, Isa Halim and Firdaus Kasman.

Meanwhile, Terengganu hitman Issey Nakajima-Farran missed out through injury.

Both teams came out of the tunnel looking determined to seize the early initiative, which culminated in an exciting first 15 minutes.

The LionsXII had the first opportunity after four minutes via Gabriel Quak as Nizam failed to control Faris’ left-wing cross, but the winger was unable to get his volley on target.

A minute later, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha won the duel with Madhu Mohana inside the box but saw his close-range shot blocked by Izwan Mahbud.

Quak then saw another shot smothered by Terengganu keeper Sharbinee Allawee, before Lopez lashed over the bar moments at the opposite end moments later.

Safuwan, who saw little of the ball early on, burst into life midway through as he got involved in two excellent opportunities.

Faris found him with a freekick at the back post but the returning LionsXII man was unable to get a decent shot away.

Safuwan then he released an onrushing Nizam with a raking crossfield pass – but the latter unselfishly squared across goal for Khairul Amri who was denied at point-blank range by Sharbinee.

The pressure was growing on the Terengganu defence, and there was little surprise when the LionsXII finally broke the deadlock on the half-hour mark.

An inswinging Quak freekick was only half-cleared into the path of Nizam, who wasted no time in unleashing a sizzling first-time half-volley which flashed past Sharbinee into the bottom left corner.

Things got even better for the LionsXII four minutes later as they doubled their advantage.  

Right-back Nazrul Nazari’s cross evaded everyone in the box to reach Faris at the back post and he reacted by lashing a left-footed volley past the stranded Sharbinee.

Terengganu tgeb pulled one back in the 39th minute via Lopez’s delightful curling freekick, after Safuwan had fouled Norshahrul just outside the box.

The visitors could have levelled matters just before the break, but Ashari Samsudin and Abdul Manaf Manat both saw their efforts come off the right-hand post in quick succession with Izwan beaten.

The LionsXII pushed for more goals after the break, but Nizam wasted two early chances before Quak spurned a one-on-one opportunity.

The latter then tapped agonizingly wide after getting on the end of a superb Amri ball across the box, while Safuwan’s close-range effort was closed down superbly by a fired-up Sharbinee.

Sahil Suhaimi and Syafiq Zainal came on to add more impetus, but the Terengganu custodian was determined to keep his side in the Cup tie.

The Malaysian international produced a stupendous save to tip Amri’s bullet header onto the bar four minutes before the end, limiting the deficit to just one goal going into next Saturday’s second leg.

The winner over two legs will face either Pahang FA or Kelantan FA in the final, which is scheduled for May 23 at the Bukit Jalil Stadium.

Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo