The LionsXII journeyed to football hell and back before they were able to reach their first Cup final.
They reached the Malaysia FA Cup final last night, despite a nerve-jangling 2-3 defeat by Terengganu - reduced to nine men in the final moments - in the second leg of the Cup semi-final last night at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Kuala Terengganu.
Despite the defeat, the LionsXII just managed to advance on the away goals rule with the aggregate tied at 4-4 after their 2-1 first-leg win at the Jalan Besar Stadium last week. Fandi Ahmad's charges, however, endured a chaotic ending which saw a disallowed Terengganu goal and two dismissals for aggression.
The hosts thought they had earned entry to the final with an 88th-minute Nordin Alias header that would have given them a 5-4 aggregate win.
But the goal was correctly disallowed for offside, which led to their foreign import Paulo Rangel displaying his frustration by kicking a ball at the goal-line official.
The Brazilian received his marching orders and Terengganu's Argentinian midfielder Gustavo Lopez was also sent off soon after, for shoving the referee in stoppage time.
Fans also showed their displeasure, causing plenty of commotion outside the stadium after the match, as the LionsXII were made to wait for more than an hour inside their dressing room for security reasons.
While Terengganu's foreign duo proved to be the villains of the night, Khairul Amri was the hero for the LionsXII with two memorable early goals that seemed to settle the visitors' nerves. Latching onto Nazrul Nazari's long pass in the 18th minute, Amri superbly coasted past goalkeeper Sharbinee Allawee before expertly cutting back onto his left foot and slamming the ball into the net.
Four minutes later, however, Terengganu equalised as Rangel got on the end of a cross from the right wing and looped his header over a stranded Izwan Mahbud.
Despite the strong support in the packed 50,000-capacity stadium, Amri silenced the boisterous crowd with a thunderbolt in the 28th minute.
Izzdin Shafiq's lofted free-kick into the box was headed down by Safuwan Baharudin into the path of Amri, who lay in wait just outside the box.
While he initially slipped, Amri recovered his footing and slammed the ball into the top corner of the net with his weaker left foot.
The home side had been deflated but on the stroke of half-time received a lifeline when they were awarded a penalty after Safuwan had fouled Rangel in the box.
The Brazilian converted the spot-kick as both sides went into the break tied at 2-2.
Norshahrul Idlan then ensured it was to be 30 minutes of relentless pressure for the LionsXII when he acrobatically volleyed from inside the box in the 60th minute to give his side a 3-2 lead on the night.
"Our main target was to come here and score goals because we knew away goals would be important," said Fandi after the match.
"The boys defended very well and we are very happy to get to the final."
The LionsXII will now face Kelantan, who defeated Pahang 3-2 on aggregate in the other semi-final, in the final this Saturday at the Bukit Jalil Stadium.
Young Lions finally show killer instinct
It took them five matches but the Singapore Under-23 football team finally notched their first win of the calendar year with a 3-0 victory over Shizuoka Sangyo University yesterday afternoon.
With their quest for a first SEA Games gold beginning in less than three weeks with an opening tie against the Philippines on June 1, the Young Lions would be elated to have got the monkey off their backs.
Shizuoka held the Young Lions goalless in the first half but finally succumbed in the 49th minute.
Shakir Hamzah toe-poked the ball in after the Shizuoka goalkeeper had fumbled the ball from Sahil Suhaimi's corner kick.
Shahfiq Ghani made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute when he latched on to Stanley Ng's pass to rifle the ball in.
Shahfiq notched his second goal of the match 10 minutes later with a well-taken free kick.
The game was the second of two friendlies that the U-23 national side pencilled in during their week-long training stint in Japan.
They lost 1-2 to Japanese fourth- division side Azul Claro Numazu on Thursday and coach Aide Iskandar was pleased with his side's response yesterday.
"I challenged the boys to prove that they have the heart and desire to represent the country and they responded in a great way," he noted.
"I am really happy with their performance today, especially with their intensity.
"It was far better than our first game. We settled in straight away and we set the tempo.
"We need to play like this in every one of our games - with hunger and desire.
"Despite the win, I have to say that we are still a work in progress."
Before yesterday, the Singapore U-23s were mired in a host of defeats this year that raised the alarm over their preparations for a SEA Games gold-medal challenge.
They suffered a 1-8 loss to Japan's U-22s and a 1-2 defeat by Syria's U-23 side in February.
They also slumped to a 1-3 upset defeat by the Cambodia U-22 team in March.
Aide used 20 of the 25 players in his squad yesterday and said he and his coaches have a clearer picture of the players they have in mind for the final cut of 20.
He added: "There are some things that need to be fine-tuned and we hope that the last two friendlies that we will play, when we get back to Singapore, will provide us with the opportunity to finish our preparations."
This article was first published on May 17, 2015.
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