IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Fandi seeks quality additions

LionsXII coach scouting S-League to sign new striker and defender

Despite a creditable showing in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) so far where the LionsXII lie fifth in the table, just two points behind leaders Terengganu, coach Fandi Ahmad is not taking his foot off the pedal.

The 51-year-old, who had earlier targeted a top-three finish, is looking to bolster his youthful squad with two additions when the transfer window opens in April.

"I'm still looking for a striker and a centre-back but it's not easy to find any players now, because they are all contracted to clubs," said Fandi.

Declining to reveal any names, he added: "We have to respect the clubs and the players' contracts.

"We'll be looking, especially when the S-League starts this Friday and, hopefully, we can find one or two players."

The MSL champions have lost key players Baihakki Khaizan and Hariss Harun to Johor Darul Takzim, captain Shahril Ishak to JDT II as well as coach V. Sundramoorthy to Negeri Sembilan.

But five games into the campaign with two wins, two draws and a loss, the LionsXII have won over neutrals with their attacking play - a far cry from last season's more-defensive unit - and a dogged refusal to give up until the final whistle.

Against JDT, dubbed the MSL's Manchester City for their big-spending ways, they roared back from 0-2 down at Larkin Stadium to salvage a 2-2 draw.

In their latest match against ATM, they won for the first time at Selayang Stadium, coming back from 0-1 down to triumph 2-1, thanks to Afiq Yunos' injury-time winner.

The LionsXII resume their MSL campaign on March 8 against Kelantan at Jalan Besar Stadium after an international break and Malaysia FA Cup matches.

Fandi's men are out of the Malaysia FA Cup after losing to Pahang 1-2 in the round of 16.

Besides scouting for new blood in the S-League, he also intends to keep up his players' fitness levels, which he credits for their dramatic comebacks.

He said: "We will be working on the fitness of some players and arrange some friendly matches for the reserves."

On his team's ability to claw themselves back from the dead, the former national captain said: "I always tell the boys, football is not a 90-minute game. It's 95 minutes.

"Against ATM in the last 20 minutes, we killed them with our youth and fitness.

"We were stronger towards the end of the game. That's why we need to maintain that enthusiasm until the game ends."

Yesterday, Fandi was involved in another initiative to fan a passion for sports at a launch of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Sports Gallery at ITE College Central.

The facility, open to ITE students on weekdays from 8am to 6pm, is filled with sports paraphernalia such as signed jerseys from former English Premier League players Andy Cole and Robbie Fowler.

Motivational quotes from sporting greats such as basketball superstar Michael Jordan and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo adorn the gallery's walls.

Said Dr Ang Kiam Wee, principal of ITE College Central: "The objective of setting up this sports gallery is to inspire and motivate our students to reach greater heights in sports and everything else that they do."

Fandi donated his famed No. 17 shirt from the 1994 Malaysia Cup final, in which he scored a glorious diving header in Singapore's emphatic 4-0 win over Pahang, to the gallery.

The ITE sports ambassador and alumnus said: "It's not a hard decision (to donate the jersey) because it'll always be there.

"I came from ITE before and I want to show appreciation to the school, and help motivate the students to do well."

siangyee@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 19, 2014

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