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Chua Siang Yee
Thursday, Aug 21, 2014

Sports

LionsXII ready to sacrifice style in bid to garner points

The Straits Times | Chua Siang Yee | Thursday, Aug 21, 2014

The LionsXII are keen to rediscover a winning rhythm, after only two victories in their last 10 games.

Ahead of tonight's Malaysia Cup clash against holders Pahang at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the message from LionsXII captain Isa Halim to his struggling team is simple: Results first, performance second.

Said the skipper, who is set to make his third competitive start after heel surgery in March: "I'll take a scrappy 1-0 win and three points any time. It's great to play well and win comfortably, but in the end nobody cares about the performance.

"People only want to know if we win or lose. And, right now, we need the points."

One can hardly blame Isa for his pragmatic outlook.

His team are short of confidence after recording only two wins in their last 10 matches, a run that meant Fandi Ahmad's team could only finish eighth in the 12-team Malaysian Super League (MSL).

In their Malaysia Cup Group A opener last Wednesday, the LionsXII could manage only a goalless draw with Felda United, who play in the second-tier Malaysian Premier League (MPL), at home.

Winger Faris Ramli, known for his tricky dribbles, is similarly willing to sacrifice style in exchange for three points.

The 21-year-old said: "We must get the result and start winning. I think fans prefer if we play badly but win. The first game was disappointing, but beating Pahang will be a real statement of intent."

Preparations for today's game against Zainal Abidin Hassan's men were hardly ideal.

Training was disrupted by last Saturday's friendly between Juventus and a Singapore Selection side which involved nine LionsXII players.

Yesterday's session was the first time the entire team trained together since the Felda match.

But Isa said that is no excuse, and stressed that the team need to start picking up points at home before tough away trips to Johor Darul Takzim II (Friday), Pahang (Aug 29) and Felda (Sept 2).

Pahang had the best home record in the recently-concluded MSL season, with nine wins in 11 home games. The same goes for MPL runners-up Felda, who were also unbeaten in 11 matches at home.

In 11 MSL away games, the LionsXII won four and lost six.

Said Isa: "In cup competitions you want to start strongly. We open with two home games and we wanted all six points, because away matches are always unpredictable.

"But now the best case scenario for us is four points. And we must get it.

"Pahang have quick players, are very balanced and are hard to break down. But we will concentrate on what we can do."

As was the story for much of the MSL season, the team's finishing let them down against Felda.

But midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin said: "It's always frustrating when we draw, but we cannot forget Felda are a strong team.

"The responsibility to score is not just on the strikers, and the midfielders like me, Faris, Shahfiq (Ghani) and Gabriel (Quak) need to help out.

"Once we score, the floodgates will open."

siangyee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 19, 2014.
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