Fandi dismisses title run

Fine spell lifts team into fourth spot but coach feels 10 points too much to make up

LionsXII winger Faris Ramli (No.17) negotiating his way past Muhammad Ferris Danial (on the turf) towards Firdaus Fauzi.
LionsXII winger Faris Ramli (No.17) negotiating his way past Muhammad Ferris Danial (on the turf) towards Firdaus Fauzi.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Malaysian Super League

LionsXII 2

Felda United 1

Although the 2015 Malaysian Super League (MSL) season started poorly for the LionsXII, Fandi Ahmad's men are now on a late surge to finish in the leading pack.

After just one win in their opening eight matches, the Singapore side are now fourth in the 12-team table - the highest since hammering Malaysian police side PDRM 5-3 on the opening day.

This comes courtesy of a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Felda United at Jalan Besar Stadium last night - a result which also preserved the team's unbeaten home record this year.

Felda coach Irfan Bakti believes the LionsXII still have what it takes to climb further up the standings and replicate their 2013 MSL championship win.

He said: "Why not? Why do you think they can't win? LionsXII are a force to play against."

Fandi, though, downplayed his team's chances and even chuckled at the prospect.

"We can only dream about it (the title)," he said. "We are targeting a top four finish and we will need a miracle to win the league.

"Ten points is a lot to make up and you would need three wins while needing the others to lose three before you even look at challenging."

But momentum is on the side of the Malaysian FA Cup winners. In their last seven matches, they have only been beaten once, a 1-2 away loss to PDRM on June 26.

Fandi's men, on 26 points, now trail Perak (27 points), defending champions Johor Darul Takzim (34) and Pahang (36). Last season, the LionsXII finished eighth.

An advantage for them is that JDT and Pahang may be distracted by their involvement in the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup. But the Singapore side face a crucial month, as they host Pahang on Saturday before playing the Johor powerhouses at Larkin Stadium next Wednesday.

Fandi believes his side can still get better as they make the late push with six MSL matches left.

He said: "I am happy with the three points but we were very lethargic. There was too much ball watching and loose passes. We created a lot of chances but we should have finished them off." 

Felda United took a surprise lead in the 12th minute. Veteran Malaysian forward Indra Putra Mahayuddin was put through by a lofted through ball from Liberian playmaker Zah Rahan Krangar and the former chipped his effort above goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.

Zulfahmi Arifin equalised for the hosts in the 23rd minute. From 20m out, he curled a sublime free kick around the wall and into the net.

Faris Ramli then grabbed the winner just before the half-time break with an inspired effort of his own. From the right flank, the winger ghosted past two defenders with nifty footwork before he slotted the ball beyond the reach of goalkeeper Farizal Harun.

While the LionsXII continue to rack up the points in the final straight, one or two teams across the Causeway will be sweating to ensure the Malaysian FA Cup will be the only trophy that Fandi's men wrest away from their shores.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Fandi dismisses title run'. Print Edition | Subscribe