Fearless Fandi

Fearless Fandi
NEW LOOK: (From near right) Gabriel Quak, Isa Halim, Izwan Mahbud, Sahil Suhaimi and Christopher van Huizen wearing their 2015 kits.

They face some tough challenges, but LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad is bullish ahead of the new Malaysian Super League (MSL) season.

At the unveiling of the LionsXII players, sponsors and new jerseys at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday, Fandi told The New Paper: "Definitely we want to win something.

We are aiming quite high again, we want to fight for the top three, even with the many new players we have.

"Given that we have quite a kind draw in the FA Cup, we will want to give our fans something to cheer about in that competition, too.

"We cannot worry about the four foreigners the Malaysian teams have, that's out of our control.

"For us, it's all about teamwork and fighting spirit. With that, we have a good chance of achieving our dream."

FIRST TEST

The LionsXII open their MSL campaign by entertaining newly-promoted PDRM FA on Saturday.

They have been drawn to meet third-tier team PB Melayu Kedah in the first round of the FA Cup on Feb 28 and will not face an MSL side until the semi-final stage.

Entering last year's campaign as league champions, but weakened by the departures of star names like Shahril Ishak, Hariss Harun and Baihakki Khaizan, the LionsXII finished eighth in the 12-team competition.

Fandi's common refrain was that the team lacked firepower up front, although there were concerns over the defence.

The 52-year-old was proven right as his team scored just 26 goals in 22 games, but had the joint third-best defence with 27 conceded.

Now, with the likes of Khairul Amri, Sahil Suhaimi and Faris Ramli leading the line, the LionsXII seem to be well-stocked in attack, although the defence will have to fill a gaping hole with star defender Safuwan Baharudin on at least a three-month loan deal with A-League side Melbourne City.

Fandi vowed to continue with his attacking philosophy.

"Attack is the best form of defence," he said.

"Last year was tough and results didn't always go our way. Sometimes we dominated matches without finding a breakthrough.

"But we will keep on fighting and give more exposure to younger players, which will be important for the long-term development of the national team.

"There are seven players eligible for this year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games and we hope to continue the trend of blooding young talent like Faris, who had a breakthrough last year, and Safuwan.

"Every player must take his chance to prove himself."

Last season, Malaysian sides could only field three of their four foreign signings, but this year, the restriction has been lifted.

As has been the case since they entered Malaysia's football competitions in 2012, the LionsXII will not have a foreigner player.

But skipper Isa Halim, 28, believes the top-three target is attainable.

"We are the underdogs but we want to surprise people and show what we can do.

Malaysian teams have four foreigners but they are still humans.

"We won't give up, we have responded well to new tactics, we have shown desire and fire which we can't wait to display in our first match on Saturday."

At the ceremony yesterday, Football Association of Singapore president Zainudin Nordin welcomed the new sponsors - SilkAir (official airline partner), and Shuttle Cargo and Weldman Welding (Friends of LionsXII).

He also singled out principal sponsor and official broadcaster StarHub for believing in the LionsXII from the start.

StarHub chief marketing officer Jeannie Ong added: "The theme 'Our Boys.

Our Team' reminds us that everyone has a role to play in this season's campaign.

"The LionsXII are our team and we encourage Singaporeans from all walks of life to come together and get behind our boys.

"Last season had its challenges but it also proved to be a learning experience for the team.

Tempered by the flames of adversity, we have faith that coach Fandi will blend the team's new steely resolve with his brand of attacking football.

"It is time for our boys to make us all proud by putting up a good show this season.

It would be a fitting gift to the nation and fans as we celebrate SG50."

davidlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 4, 2015.
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