By Kenneth Tan
LionsXII 2-1 Selangor PKNS
(Zulfahmi Arifin 43’, Faris Ramli 60’) (Nazmi Faiz 31’)
SINGAPORE, 22 March 2014: After a three-match winless streak at home, the LionsXII finally tasted victory once again at Jalan Besar Stadium as they came from behind to beat Selangor PKNS 2-1 in a Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash.
Goals from Zulfahmi Arifin and Faris Ramli in each half proved to be enough to cancel out Nazmi Faiz’s opener on the half-hour mark.
Coach Fandi Ahmad made a few changes from the previous line-up against Sarawak FA, bringing in Raihan Rahman for his first appearance of the season to replace the injured captain Isa Halim, alongside Zulfahmi and Faris.
That saw them line up in a 4-5-1 formation with Khairul deployed as the lone forward. Despite dominating the first half hour, the reigning MSL champions struggled to create clear-cut opportunities.
Khairul was the player most involved in the thick of things, putting two efforts just wide off the mark after some intelligent individual work. Meanwhile, Firdaus also lashed a 25-yard shot that whizzed just past the left-hand post.
Failure to grasp foothold of the game, they paid the price just after the half-hour mark. PKNS winger Nazmi Faiz broke free just outside the box due to some hesitancy in the LionsXII backline and duly curled a neat low shot beyond Izwan’s right-hand post.
Credit to the Singaporeans, they increased the tempo of their game and duly levelled matters just before the half-time whistle.
After earning a free-kick off PKNS captain Fauzan Dzulkifli, playmaker Zulfahmi dusted himself up to curl a splendid curling 25-yard effort over the wall and past keeper Remezey Ros’ despairing dive.
The 22-year-old could have replicated the feat just a couple of minutes later from similar range, but was unluckily denied by the crossbar.
Buoyed by the timely equalizer, the LionsXII came into the second half settled into their rhythm and looked more dangerous in the attacking third. Coach Fandi soon brought on an extra attacker in Sufian Anuar just before the hour mark and that change created an almost immediate impact.
The 26-year-old’s incessant pressure initially caused the PKNS defence to concede possession to Khairul at the edge of the box. The latter then released the onrushing Faris who took the opportunity to lash a powerful effort inside Remezey’s near post.
With half an hour left to play, the LionsXII defence had to stand tall to deny the resistance of the visitors. Isa Halim and Madhu Mohana then came on for Raihan and Nazrul Nazari respectively in the last 10 minutes to inject some fresh legs into the side.
There were a few nervy moments towards the end, including a fierce Patrick Ronaldinho Wleh’s close-range shot which was blocked by Afiq Yunos. Eventually the Singaporeans managed to stave off all that pressure to return to winning ways at their beloved home ground.
Fandi: We responded well
At the post-match press conference, coach Fandi expressed his delight at seeing his boys showing the desire to bounce back after some indifferent results lately.
“The boys responded well to instructions tonight,” he said.
“PKNS is a better team than the last two years with some good foreign players, and they gave us a run for our money. They kept pushing us towards the end and getting corners which were dangerous, but we were confident of getting the three points based on our training sessions. I told the boys we’re not playing for ourselves; we’re doing this for the fans.”
He also singled out his midfield trio for special praise, including first-time starter Raihan.
“Raihan did very well tonight – he was sliding, tackling, putting in challenges in the middle,” assessed the 51-year-old.
“Zulfahmi had his best game and I’m very happy for him that he scored the goal. Firdaus also played well but we have to compromise him for Sufian because we need an extra attacker.”
Meanwhile his opposite counterpart Wan Jamak Wan Hassan lamented the lack of concentration and mental strength from his side that led to the defeat.
“I told the boys not to concede any free-kicks 30 yards from goal because the LionsXII have players who can convert from dead balls, and they showed that,” he said.
“For the second goal, it was the mistakes of my two centre-backs that cost us. I’ve told them that they need to be mentally strong to face this team but in the end we still gave away the goals.”
However he was gracious in defeat, praising the LionsXII for their late rearguard action.
“Each time my strikers Patrick and Karlo (Primorac) go forward, they always have players marking behind,” analyzed the 56-year-old.
“That makes it very difficult for us. We have chances to score but they put up a good defensive wall which was hard for us to break through. That said, I think we lost to a better team tonight.”
The LionsXII will next travel away to Ipoh, Malaysia to take on Perak FA in their next MSL game. The game will be played on next Tuesday, March 25th at 8.45pm.
Do check back on the LionsXII’s website and Facebook page for the latest updates regarding the game. Go LionsXII go!