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LionsXII squander chances

The Straits Times | Friday, Aug 22, 2014

Winger Faris Ramli (left), being tackled by Pahang’s Saiful Nizam, was the man who scored the only goal for the LionsXII in the 1-2 defeat. Coach Fandi Ahmad’s lack of firepower was exposed at Jalan Besar Stadium as the Singapore side created several chances but could not find an equaliser.

LionsXII 1

Pahang 2

After starting their Malaysia Cup campaign with a draw and a defeat at home, the LionsXII now need to start pulling rabbits out of the hat - with three wins required out of their remaining four games, according to coach Fandi Ahmad.

Yesterday evening, despite creating more chances, the Singapore side were beaten 2-1 at Jalan Besar Stadium by holders Pahang in front of a crowd of 4,186.

Last week, they drew 0-0 with Felda United in their opening Group A game, meaning they now occupy third spot in the four-team table.

Johor Darul Takzim II's 2-3 loss against Felda last night left them at the bottom.

"It looks like we need three wins out of four," said Fandi.

"Definitely, we need to win our next two games (the first away to Johor Darul Takzim II and the second against Pahang) to open up the group.

"We are not out of it yet but it will be very, very tough."

Yesterday, Pahang took the lead in the 13th minute when three players in red shirts failed to cut out a low cross from the left, leaving Nigerian striker Dickson Nwakaeme to find enough time and space to place his shot into the top corner.

With three minutes left, substitute striker Fauzi Rozlan capped a swift counter-attack by blasting a piledriver from 20m to comprehensively beat goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.

The hosts netted a stoppage time consolation goal in controversial circumstances when the ball went out of play before bouncing back in. But referee Zulkifli Ahmad and his assistants allowed play to go on and centre-back Safuwan Baharudin dribbled unopposed before squaring for winger Faris Ramli to tap in to reduce the margin.

Try as they could, there was precious little invention from the hosts apart from Faris - arguably the team's best player this season.

Time and again, the winger, who turns 22 on Friday, weaved his way down the right, sending defenders falling with a shimmy or a swerve before delivering low crosses that were not converted.

Twice, in the 47th and 49th minutes, the tricky dribbler laid the ball on a plate but Sufian Anuar could not connect and later, Zulfahmi Arifin's wild swing resulted in a rugby conversion instead of a goal.

There was a lot of industry from the likes of right-back Madhu Mohana, defensive midfielder Raihan Rahman, left midfielder Hafiz Abu Sujad and striker Sufian but none had the killer touch to break Pahang down.

Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan insisted: "I still think the LionsXII can qualify from the group.

"They really worked hard and gave us a tough time. It took every drop of sweat from us to beat them. All they are missing is experienced players to guide them."

But with regular striker Khairul Amri set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a fractured cheekbone, Fandi is sorely lacking in firepower.

He praised Sufian for his work ethic and Shahfiq Ghani for injecting some life into a team with sagging morale, but he believes there is no clinical finisher in his squad.

"Strikers are born, not made," the former Singapore top marksman said.

"We don't have a finisher in Singapore at the moment.

"But I will keep polishing my players until they get that feeling, that sharpness."


This article was first published on August 20, 2014.
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