COURTS YOUNG LIONS 2 (Afiq Noor 5, Faris Ramli 21)
PAHANG 1 (Matias Conti 77)
Adam Swandi displayed trickery down the right flank, Faris Ramli frequently went on his slaloming runs and cut in from the left to shoot, while Sahil Suhaimi showed tremendous strength and determination.
Much has been made about the Young Lions' abundance of talent in attack but, in last night's pre-season friendly against Pahang at the Jalan Besar Stadium, two others stole the show instead -midfielders Afiq Noor and Anumanthan Kumar.
The duo patrolled the midfield area, closing down the likes of Pahang's foreign imports Matias Conti and Dickson Nwakaeme.
Afiq gave the Young Lions a shock lead after only five minutes, smashing home from inside the penalty area.
Faris, who was drafted into the team with striker Sahil from the LionsXII, then got into the act, finishing a quick passing move with Adam with a well-placed shot into the bottom corner.
Conti got one back for the Malaysian Super League side in the second half, heading in from close range, but the Young Lions held on for a morale-boosting win.
The 2-1 win was a feather in the cap for the Republic's Under-23 developmental side.
After all, they were up against the reigning Malaysia Cup and FA Cup holders.
Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar lavished special praise on Afiq and Anumanthan after the match.
He told The New Paper: "For me, Afiq and Anu are key to the team.
"They give the kind of protection that the defence needs.
"I think they did well. They have been playing together for quite a while, and they will form a core component of the team, both in the S.League and in the South-east Asia (SEA) Games."
Despite his coach's compliments, Anumanthan prefers to keep his feet firmly on the ground, insisting that hard work is the only way to go.
"To me, it's all about hard work. Coach Aide has been telling me to work hard all the time and establish myself in the team, and I'm thankful that I've been given the platforms that I need to make sure of that," said the 21-year-old.
"Personally, I want to take my game to the next level, and make the cut for the SEA Games."
For Afiq, the steady performance he put in in midfield is a huge shot in the arm.
The 21-year-old has to contend with a succession of ankle and knee injuries in the 2013 and 2014 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League seasons, while also having to miss out on plenty of games due to National Service.
But he is ready to make up for lost time.
His wish for the new season, which will kick off in March, is simple - to stay injury-free.
"I need to stay free of injuries for the upcoming season. My only target is to be fit and play as much as I can, because I've missed out on too much," he said.
"But, tonight, it feels really good to be able to go out and play. It's an amazing feeling to be there on the pitch, contributing to the team. I'm looking for more of that."
This article was first published on Jan 15, 2015.
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