Massive task to rescue season

Azammuddin Akil (right) thwarting LionsXII's Nazrul Nazari in a chase for the ball. The hungrier and faster Pahang players were a real handful for the Singapore team, who need to improve tremendously on Saturday.
Azammuddin Akil (right) thwarting LionsXII's Nazrul Nazari in a chase for the ball. The hungrier and faster Pahang players were a real handful for the Singapore team, who need to improve tremendously on Saturday.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

LionsXII outclassed but late goal by Safuwan in Kuantan gives glimmer of hope against holders

MALAYSIA CUP Q-FINAL 1ST LEG

Pahang 4

LionsXII 1


Fandi Ahmad had wanted his team to score away goals for their Malaysia Cup quarter-final first-leg tie against Pahang last night and although the LionsXII managed to net one, the irony is that the hosts roared to a resounding 4-1 win.

With their Malaysia Cup dreams almost in tatters, the Singaporean outfit will have a mountain to climb in the return leg at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday to prevent their season from ending.

Fandi admitted: "We had a mission to get a goal. But it's going to be tough for us to come back."

Pahang, Malaysia Cup winners for the past two seasons, served a reminder of their status, dominating a hapless LionsXII side at the Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan.

The hosts went ahead in the sixth minute, when usually reliable goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud failed to hold on to midfielder Hafiz Kamal's free-kick cross that curled towards the goal and trickled into the net.

As expected, the lethal strike duo of Matias Conti and Nigerian Dickson Nwakaeme were a menace in front of the LionsXII's goal, often threatening with surging runs and passes into the box.

Conti made it three matches in a row that he has scored against Fandi's men in the 54th minute, when defender Shakir Hamzah slipped in front of goal to hand a clear sitter for the Argentinian striker, who fired past Izwan.

Nwakaeme followed suit five minutes later, when his shot took a deflection off Shakir's boots into the goal - the Nigerian's fifth Malaysia Cup goal this year.

Said Fandi: "I think they (Conti and Nwakaeme) are the best in the (Malaysian) league."

Pahang, on a roll, pounced with a counter-attack in the 67th minute, with substitute winger R. Gopinathan's clinical finish stretching their lead to four goals.

Midfielder Safuwan Baharudin gave the Singapore camp something to cheer about when he leapt to nod Zulfahmi Arifin's long ball into the goal deep in stoppage time.

Fandi said: "They (Pahang) came at us very strongly. The second goal really killed us and they were the better team."

Pahang's performance last night was a far cry from the unconvincing manner in which they stumbled through the preliminary rounds, finishing second in Group D.

They had gone into the match with an air of vulnerability, following shock 4-1 defeats by lower division sides Penang and PKNS in the tournament's group stage.

However, on a night when it all went right for Zainal Abidin Hassan's men, Pahang avenged their 2-4 loss to the LionsXII in August in a Malaysia Super League match at Jalan Besar.

Even though their chances of progressing to the semi-finals are hanging by a thread, Fandi is not giving up yet.

Perhaps, his optimism stems from his team's unbeaten home record at Jalan Besar this year, a run of 18 matches. He said: "Football is a funny game, we have to think positive. We want to score early goals and we'll try to change our strategy and go for a win."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'MASSIVE TASK TO RESCUE SEASON'. Print Edition | Subscribe