Double joy may spark recovery

Faris Ramli at LionsXII training yesterday. He insists he has put the disappointment of the Young Lions' early SEA Games exit behind him and is ready to resume firing against their MSL rivals.
Faris Ramli at LionsXII training yesterday. He insists he has put the disappointment of the Young Lions' early SEA Games exit behind him and is ready to resume firing against their MSL rivals. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

LionsXII in buoyant mood after May's FA Cup win and Japan-S'pore draw

THEY sit at a lowly eighth place in the 12-team league, seven points behind leaders Pahang.

Yet, the LionsXII will likely walk out onto the Jalan Besar Stadium pitch with a spring in their steps tonight, as they host ATM in the first match upon the resumption of their Malaysian Super League (MSL) campaign.

There are two big reasons for the optimism among the players.

LET'S LOOK AHEAD

There will be criticism, but we have to take it positively and move on from it.

- Faris Ramli, on the SEA Games

First, the last time the team played was the sparkling 3-1 win over Kelantan that clinched the Malaysian FA Cup at a sold-out, 90,000-capacity Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur last month.

The triumph - the first time a foreign team had won the Cup - sparked scenes of euphoria at the Changi Airport as over 2,000 fans gathered to welcome the players upon their return.

The second reason came on Tuesday, when nine LionsXII players featured for the Singapore senior side in the heroic 0-0 away draw against mighty Japan in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers - a scoreline that was hailed as the Lions' best result in many years.

Such positive momentum has given coach Fandi Ahmad the belief that his side can start a climb up the MSL table.

"Of course there is a feel-good factor in the side," said Fandi, who was an assistant coach to national team coach Bernd Stange during the Japan draw.

"I hope we can pick up a good run of wins now, because the players are confident and I can see that the morale is very good.

"The players are all eager in training so hopefully, we can stay at that level and perform in the matches."

Madhu Mohana, who was outstanding in the match against Japan, echoed his coach's assessment that the players are high in confidence. Said the 24-year-old: "Keeping a clean sheet against Japan was a massive boost to our confidence.

"We really have to use that confidence to kick on. We have to bring our performances from the Cup to the league and get maximum points from our next two matches (both against ATM)."

Fandi will also be boosted by four new additions: Shakir Hamzah, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Safirul Sulaiman and Shahfiq Ghani.

The quartet, together with Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi, were all part of the SEA Games football team who were knocked out in the group stage.

However, Faris insisted that he has put the disappointment behind him and is eager to be firing again for the LionsXII.

"It is a new challenge now," he said. "There will be criticism, but we have to take it positively and move on from it.

"I have to tell myself that I am a professional player and, no matter what, I have to go out there and give my 100 per cent and show what I am truly capable of."

Tonight's match - as well as the next two home games against Kelantan (July 4) and Perak (July 8) - will kick off at 9pm instead of the usual 7.45pm, owing to the Muslim fasting month.

Fandi has urged his side to be better prepared because of the change, adding: "We have to adapt fast to the change of time, but it will not be easy for us.

"We have five matches during this period of Ramadan and we must focus to ensure we collect good results."

drajac@sph.com.sg

LionsXII v ATM

StarHub Ch112/205 & 76.25MHz, 8.45pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'DOUBLE JOY MAY SPARK RECOVERY'. Print Edition | Subscribe