Football: LionsXII have their tails up

The LionsXII during a training session before their football match against Felda United on Jul 31, 2015.
The LionsXII during a training session before their football match against Felda United on Jul 31, 2015.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Team hope experience playing in World Cup qualifiers can fuel a strong Malaysia Cup run

Armed with the experience of silencing a partisan crowd in Japan and losing narrowly to Syria, the LionsXII want to translate that international exposure into a good run in the Malaysia Cup.

Given a favourable draw in Group A alongside Malaysian Super League (MSL) side Terengganu and second-tiered Malaysian Premier League (MPL) outfits Kedah and Johor Darul Takzim II (JDT II), coach Fandi Ahmad and his men are bubbling with optimism ahead of tomorrow's opener against Kedah.

With the core of the Singapore national football team formed by the LionsXII, Fandi Ahmad's players enter the Malaysia Cup with the tools to go far, having been enriched by international exposure.

While hesitant to reveal his target, Fandi said: "Many of the players have been through some big games and they can bring that international exposure to the Cup.

"They have reached a higher level, they came back stronger and should be able to play even better.

"We can see how well they played against Syria, and I believe that if they can keep up playing at this level, we will have the advantage against the Malaysian teams."

In the 2018 World Cup qualifying matches, 14 LionsXII players played in last week's narrow 0-1 loss to Syria.

Nine of them started in the goalless draw in front of 57,533 fans in Saitama, Japan.

Utility player Safuwan Baharudin believes that playing against quality opponents in national colours will stand the LionsXII in good stead across the Causeway.

He said: "National team and clubs - they are two different things. The international games are higher in quality and standards, and they are more intense.

"The national players in the team will know how to cope with the Malaysian sides."

The LionsXII's best Malaysia Cup result came in their debut season in 2012 when they reached the semi-finals.

Last year, in Fandi's first season in charge, they crashed out in the group stages.

Although unbeaten in the MSL at home this season, the LionsXII's poor away form, which saw them win just once and draw thrice in 11 away games, has been a source of concern as Fandi's men finished seventh in the 12-team league.

That bitter pill is fuelling the determination of winger Faris Ramli.

He said: "Our team feel that we have something to give back to our fans after a disappointing end to the league."

Safuwan added: "They are all things of the past. We will regroup and rebuild."

Terengganu pose the biggest threat in Group A.

The Turtles, who finished fourth in the recently-concluded MSL, are the top seeds in the group and should be the toughest opponents for Fandi's men.

LionsXII lost 2-4 away to Terengganu last month in the MSL, and drew 1-1 in an earlier game at home in March.

Kedah are the MPL champions and boast the division's top scorer in 28-year-old Nigerian striker Chidi Edeh. He has netted 10 goals in 13 matches.

Although JDT II finished fifth in the MPL, they have experience in the form of Singapore captain Shahril Ishak and first-choice centre-back Baihakki Khaizan.

For Faris, the time has come to put into practice the lessons learnt against Japan and Syria against the Malaysian teams.

He said: "There's no room for any more errors, we are all eager to come out and show our best."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline ' LionsXII have their tails up'. Print Edition | Subscribe