Important Izwan

Important Izwan

There were laughs aplenty at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium during the LionsXII's training session yesterday afternoon.

Team spirit was high, as coach Fandi Ahmad and his assistant Nazri Nasir joined the 18 players in a game of "monkey" ahead of tonight's Malaysian FA Cup semi-final, second-leg clash against Terengganu.

On the other side of the pitch, between the goalposts, loomed a more serious atmosphere.

Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud practised stopping penalties and close-range shots with goalkeeping coach Lee Bee Seng.

Every now and then, the 24-year-old custodian would gaze up at the empty stands of the new 50,000-seater stadium, as if imagining what tonight's atmosphere would be like.

The usually good-humoured Izwan never smiled and wore just a serious, focused expression as he performed his shot-stopping and ball-handling drills.

The Singapore international has always thrived in a big-game, big-crowd environment - and he's hoping the stadium will be packed tonight.

"Big crowds motivate me," he told The New Paper after the 60-minute session.

"There will be a lot of pressure, from the fans and the Terengganu team.

"But my defence and I will handle it well."

The LionsXII will carry a slender 2-1 advantage into the encounter, and the prize is a place in the May 23 final at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

OUTSTANDING

If they are to reach the summit, Izwan will have to give an encore of the performance he displayed at home against Johor Darul Ta'zim last month.

The LionsXII drew 0-0 then at the Jalan Besar Stadium, thanks to their heroic goalkeeper who made several outstanding saves.

"The JDT game is a thing of the past but, of course, I go into every game aiming to keep a clean sheet," Izwan said.

"This is such an important game; everyone will need to be at his best."

Fandi didn't speak to Izwan on the pitch yesterday, but only because he knew his No. 1 was ready for the task ahead.

Communication, he said, will be key as his charges look to quell the threat of Terengganu striker Paulo Rangel and playmaker Gustavo Lopez.

"Izwan has improved in his focus and communication at the back, and that's what we will need against Terengganu," Fandi said.

"He will be important for us, but we also need to close down Terengganu's passing before they can test our goalkeeper.

"Just as crucial will be our two central midfielders Safuwan (Baharudin) and Izzdin (Shafiq)."

The LionsXII will be without winger Faris Ramli, who is with the Singapore Under-23s in Japan preparing for the South-east Asia Games.

In his absence, Nazrul Nazari will push up to the right wing, with Raihan Rahman passed fit to start at fullback.

Gabriel Quak will occupy the left wing, while Khairul Amri and Khairul Nizam will provide the attacking thrust from the middle.

"I'm very confident, and I've told the boys to play without added pressure," Fandi said.

"The pressure should not be on us, because we have a one-goal lead.

"We just need to be tight at the back, and be ready to counter-attack as much as possible."

Probable LionsXII line-up: Izwan Mahbud, Raihan Rahman, Zulfahmi Arifin, Madhu Mohana, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Izzdin Shafiq, Safuwan Baharudin, Khairul Amri, Gabriel Quak, Nazrul Nazari, Khairul Nizam.

bensee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 16, 2015.
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