Malaysia Cup: S'pore saves their best for last

Malaysia Cup: S'pore saves their best for last
A joyous Baihakki Khaizan (left) after heading the LionsXII into a 2-0 lead in the first half, following a free kick from Shahfiq Ghani (right). Joining in the celebrations is defender Shakir Hamzah. The LionsXII won 3-1 to qualify for the quarter-finals as Group D runners-up.

Kedah 1

LionsXII 3

In 1990, V. Sundramoorthy wore the green and yellow of Kedah and broke the hearts of Singapore, scoring in their 3-1 Malaysia Cup final victory.

It was a role reversal in his old stomping ground in Alor Star on Saturday as the 47-year-old returned as coach of the LionsXII and masterminded a win by the same score.

The win booked his team's passage into the quarter-finals, at the expense of his old employers.

Last year, Sundram was criticised for caring too much about results and not aesthetics.

On Saturday, however, he answered those criticisms with effective tactics capped by brilliant team goals.

With Kedah neutralised before a capacity 32,000 crowd in Darul Aman Stadium, Hariss Harun gave the visitors the lead in the 24th minute when he glanced home winger Faris Ramli's cross following a penetrating pass down the left from striker Shahfiq Ghani.

Then, centre-back Baihakki Khaizan rammed the ball into the roof of the net in the 39th minute after defensive partner Safuwan Baharudin had nodded down Shahfiq's free-kick.

Kedah pulled one back in the 45th minute when striker Alen Guc dived in to head the ball across the line after a cross from the right beat goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.

But as the hosts poured men forward in search of the equaliser, the LionsXII made the decisive blow when Hafiz Abu Sujad led the counter- attack and blasted home from 25 metres out, comprehensively beating goalkeeper Abdul Hadi in the 66th minute.

That proved too much for the home fans, who started to leave the stadium with 10 minutes left and their team simply could not find a way past the LionsXII.

"We have turned the corner," said Sundram, as he reflected on a Cup campaign that had started off with two defeats and a draw but was followed by three consecutive wins.

The LionsXII finished second on 10 points, behind Sarawak on goal difference. They will now meet Malaysian military side ATM, who knocked them out in the semi-finals last year after a penalty shoot-out.

Sundram added: "The boys showed character. They understand what I want in my tactics.

"We don't mind who we are playing in the quarter-finals. If we are good, we win. If we are not good, we are out. But I have belief in my boys."

A dejected Kedah coach Antonio Sisic said: "We tried to rule the middle as the LionsXII are strong in the wings but we didn't. They took their chances, they were the better team and they deserved the win."

meng@sph.com.sg


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