Fandi banks on top-four finish

The LionsXII, with Faritz Hameed (No.9), Nazrul Nazari (11) and Sufian Anuar (25) in training, will defend their stellar home record at Jalan Besar tonight against Pahang.
The LionsXII, with Faritz Hameed (No.9), Nazrul Nazari (11) and Sufian Anuar (25) in training, will defend their stellar home record at Jalan Besar tonight against Pahang.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Pahang, JDT await in next 2 matches as LionsXII seek easier Malaysia Cup path

In the space of the next four days, the LionsXII will face two of their toughest tests of the Malaysia Super League (MSL) season.

Tonight at Jalan Besar Stadium, they will put their unbeaten home record on the line against league leaders Pahang.

On Wednesday, they will make the short trip to Larkin Stadium to take on defending champions Johor Darul Takzim (JDT), who are second in the table.

As his team prepare for this tricky stretch of the season, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad has urged his charges to go for victory.

This is to send a message that his side will be a force to be reckoned with when the Malaysia Cup begins in September.

He has also declared that the priority now is for his side to finish the MSL season in the top four.

The reason? So that the LionsXII will be seeded in the Malaysia Cup, and thus avoid the top teams in the early stages of the competition.

The top 10 sides in the MSL will automatically qualify for the 16-team Malaysia Cup competition, which will also include top clubs from Malaysia's second-tier Premier League.

"It is very important that we can win (tonight)," said Fandi.

"From here on, every game is crucial and we must try to ensure we finish in the top four so that we avoid the top teams in the early stages of the Cup.

"There are a number of teams in contention so we need to make the most out of each game."

Indeed, only five points separate third-placed Perak (27 points) and ninth-placed Kelantan (22) in the league. The LionsXII lie in seventh spot, just a point behind Perak.

Last season, the LionsXII finished eighth in the 12-team league, and were handed a tough Malaysia Cup draw, being in the same group as eventual champions Pahang.

Pahang and Felda United went on to finish above the LionsXII, eliminating the latter in the group stage.

Having already won the Malaysia FA Cup in May, Fandi is eager for his side to have the best chance of achieving a historic Cup double.

The closest the LionsXII had come to winning the Malaysia Cup was back in 2012. They were knocked out in the semi-finals after a penalty shootout loss to ATM FA.

Fandi is banking on the home record to pull his side over the line.

At home this season, his charges have won six and drawn two of their eight matches so far.

They have netted 17 goals and conceding a mere seven.

"We are fortunate that we have an advantage of having three of our remaining five matches at home," said Fandi.

"A win against Pahang will be a great boost for our ambitions."

Versatile midfielder Hafiz Abu Sujad agrees with his coach. "Our home form does not give the team any pressure. Instead, it gives us an extra motivation," said Hafiz who has netted three goals this season.

"It is important that we get points off the league's top two teams and everyone is eager to bounce back from the loss in our last match."

Key man Faris Ramli has recovered from a knock that made him sit out Wednesday's 2-4 defeat to Terengganu. But striker Khairul Amri is likely to miss out again because of a calf injury.

With the match being held a day before the nation celebrates its 50th birthday, one of Singapore's favourite footballers of the past is keen to deliver a gift of his own.

Fandi said: "Hopefully, we can win and give the country a great present as we celebrate a grand SG50."


MALAYSIA SUPER LEAGUE

LionsXII v Pahang: StarHub Ch112/Ch205 & 76.25MHz, 7.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'FANDI BANKS ON TOP-FOUR FINISH'. Print Edition | Subscribe