Malaysia Cup: For once, a good problem in defence

Malaysia Cup: For once, a good problem in defence

LIONSXII have played ATM FA four times, and on each occasion coach V Sundramoorthy faced a selection headache in defence.

Injuries, suspensions and National Service commitments have conspired to rob him of his first-choice defenders and the 47-year-old has been forced to play some players out of position.

Luckily, the likes of Abdil Qaiyyim (last season), Shakir Hamzah and Hariss Harun have all done well while dealing with the Gladiators' fearsome foward line of Marlon James, Hairudin Omar and Bruno Martelotto.

The LionsXII are not only unbeaten against ATM, they have also never conceded more than one goal a game to the current top scoring side in the Malaysia Cup.

Sundram will once again experience a dilemma, albeit a happier one, as he has a fully-fit complement of defenders to choose from.

"It's the best-case scenario to have everyone available," he said.

"The players on the bench have to give the first 11 a run for their money. This keeps everyone on their toes and raring to go.

"We not only need a win, but a clean sheet is also very crucial as away goals count at this stage."

Clean sheets

The LionsXII know all about the importance of keeping clean sheets after the painful lesson in the two legs of the Malaysia Cup semi-finals last season, when one lapse of concentration in each of two legs allowed James to steal in and score to force 1-1 draws.

The Singaporean side subsequently lost in a penalty shootout to miss out on the final.

Tomorrow night, South-east Asia's best defensive triangle of goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and centre backs Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin should be the first names on Sundram's start list, with Shakir Hamzah at left back.

At right back, it is a toss-up between Madhu Mohana, who deputised well against Sarawak and Kedah, and Faritz Abdul Hameed, who has recovered from knocks suffered in recent international friendlies.

Sundram said: "We will have to analyse our opponents before deciding who is most suitable to take them on.

"ATM may claim to have many injuries, but they are no pushovers. Whoever plays in defence must stay focused and get the job done."

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