Football: Bold Fandi response salvages point

Football: Bold Fandi response salvages point
Faris Ramli (right) beating Hasmizan Kamarodin to equalise against Terengganu in the Malaysian Super League match at Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.

At the training ground, coach Fandi Ahmad loves getting involved in kickabouts and banter with his LionsXII players. More than a decade after his last game, it is still hard to take the footballer out of him.

But come match day, his men see a very different side of their coach, one who does not hesitate to wield the axe when instructions are not followed.

With his players sluggish in the first half of yesterday's Malaysian Super League (MSL) match against Terengganu, the 52-year-old former Singapore captain made bold changes to rescue a point with a 1-1 draw against Terengganu.

The LionsXII have been winless in four MSL games since beating Malaysian police side PDRM 5-3 on the opening day.

Despite the home advantage, the hosts lacked energy and a cutting edge before Jalan Besar Stadium's 5,500-strong crowd, who had to endure a wait of more than an hour as the 7.45pm kick-off was delayed by a heavy downpour.

They duly paid the price for the slow start in the ninth minute when striker Khairul Amri, who turns 30 today, was powerless to stop Terengganu's burly Cameroonian centre-back Vincent Bikana from heading home a corner.

Pre-match, Fandi was already forced to change his line-up, with attacking midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin playing at centre-back in place of the gout-stricken Afiq Yunos and Wahyudi Wahid deputising at right-back for the injured Nazrul Nazari.

But with Wahyudi's distribution wayward, Fandi summoned Afiq from the bench after just 34 minutes.

More merciless chopping was done at half-time as captain Isa Halim was sacrificed for striker Sahil Suhaimi to inject more firepower into the game plan.

The changes proved effective as the LionsXII poured forward and dominated the second half.

That sense of urgency was evident in the equaliser in the 55th minute in a rapid counter-attack led by Sahil, who slipped the ball ahead for Faris to weave in from the right before placing the ball into the bottom corner.

And it was lively substitute Sahil who could have won it in stoppage time when his 25m free kick rebounded off the crossbar.

Although there are positives in the aggressive ball-winning from midfielder Izzdin Shafiq, the precise distribution from Firdaus Kasman and the penetrating runs from Faris and Sahil, there is no hiding the disappointment of two precious points dropped at home as a result of the initial lethargy.

The LionsXII's next fixture is a Malaysia FA Cup round of 16 tie against second-tiered Malaysian Premier League Spa Putrajaya FC at Jalan Besar Stadium this Saturday.

meng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 15, 2015.
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