SINGAPORE - What started as a dream to win the coveted Malaysia Cup turned into a nightmare for the LionsXII as the Singaporean outfit were hammered 4-1 at Pahang in the first leg of the quarter-finals.
From start to finish, the Cup holders controlled the tempo in Kuantan and repeatedly ripped the visitors' defence into shreds with their pace, power and precision.
Midfielder Hafiz Kamal propelled the hosts to an early sixth minute lead when his free-kick from an acute angle was fumbled into the net by the usually reliable goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
And the LionsXII suffered another sore point in the 27th minute when defender Aziz Ismail was shown only a yellow card for a blatant elbow on the face of right winger Nazrul Nazari.
Although coach Fandi Ahmad boldly opted for a twin strikeforce of Sahil Suhaimi and Sufian Anuar in an attempt to snatch a precious away goal, the visitors were pinned down by the sheer physical power of Zainal Abidin Hassan's men, with striker Dickson Nwakaeme leading the charge.
The powerful Nigerian issued a warning in the 40th minute when he blasted over the bar after a thrilling solo run that took him past three defenders.
In the 52nd minute, he peeled to the left to deliver a cross for fellow striker Matias Conti, who headed against the LionsXII's crossbar.
But the Argentinian was not to be denied two minutes later when centre-back Shakir Hamzah slipped inside the box and gave the sharpshooter an easy chance to convert.
Nwakaeme himself added a third in the 59th minute after a cross was not dealt with and the striker's shot was deflected into the net off Shakir.
And in the 67th minute, Pahang's Hafiz dispossessed LionsXII left-back Hafiz Sujad and picked out the overlapping run of winger R. Gopinathan, who calmly stroked the ball past Izwan for the fourth goal.
However, midfielder Safuwan Baharudin gave the LionsXII a glimmer of hope when he jumped highest to connect with Zulfahmi Arifin's long pass three minutes into stoppage time to reduce the deficit.
The second leg of the quarter-final will be played at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday evening.