Stand up...and be counted

Stand up...and be counted
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad (in black) explaining to Gabriel Quak (in yellow) and Faritz Hameed during LionsXII training session at Geylang Field.
PHOTO: The New Paper

As they go in search of Malaysia Cup glory, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad has called upon not just his first 11, but his entire 28-man squad to stand up and be counted.

In yesterday's Malaysia Cup draw, conducted at the Hilton Hotel Petaling Jaya, the LionsXII were pulled into Group A, along with Terengganu, Malaysian Premier League champions Kedah and Johor Darul Ta'zim II.

The fixtures will be released later.

Fandi insists that they have to show the same team effort that led to their fairy-tale success in the Malaysian FA Cup, if the Singaporean side are to claim a remarkable Cup double.

The 53-year-old told The New Paper yesterday: "We had players injured, suspended and unavailable due to various reasons, but those who came in stepped up to help the team win the FA Cup.

"We got goals from all departments - nine different players, some who are not first-team regulars, scored our 17 goals, and some very crucial ones, too.

"We had to field players out of position, but midfielders Zulfahmi (Arifin) and Nazrul (Ahmad Nazari) did very well in defence, as we kept four clean sheets and conceded just five in seven games.

"This is the kind of commitment and performance I want to see from every player during the Malaysia Cup."

On paper, it seems like a straightforward group for the LionsXII - with just one other Malaysian Super League (MSL) team in Terengganu, whom they beat en route to winning the FA Cup, and two lower-tier sides.

Since the LionsXII were established in 2012, they have never lost to Kedah, winning once and drawing thrice. They have also beaten JDT II in their FA Cup run.

But, after seeing his side miss out on the knockout stages last season, Fandi refused to be lulled into complacency.

"We are in quite a tough group because Kedah just won the Premier League and they will be very eager to perform in the Malaysia Cup. Terengganu are a very complete team, while we cannot take JDT II lightly," he said."

"We must take this seriously and use the FA Cup victory as motivation to do well.

"It won't be easy, so I really hope the fans will come out in full force to support us at Jalan Besar Stadium."

While they won three times away from home in their FA Cup victory, the LionsXII have just one away MSL win all season, and Fandi agreed that they have to improve on the road.

START ANEW

Wing forward Faris Ramli, who has scored 10 goals for the LionsXII in all competitions this season, urged his teammates to forget about their poor away record and start afresh.

"We just have to put everything aside, not dwell on the past, and focus on what we are supposed to do in every game," said the 23-year-old.

"That's what we did in the FA Cup, and, hopefully, it will bring us far in the Malaysia Cup, too."

Meanwhile, JDT II skipper Shahril Ishak is looking forward to a return to Jalan Besar, after drawing his former club in the Malaysia Cup for the second year running.

The 31-year-old said: "We have achieved our target of reaching the Malaysia Cup and anything can happen in such cup competitions.

"I didn't play against the LionsXII last season because of a hamstring injury, so I'm looking forward to playing at Jalan Besar again as it is a place where we have shared so many special moments with the fans.

"We know the LionsXII will be tough opponents, but we will try our best to surprise our higher-ranking opponents and try to make it out of our group."


This article was first published on August 28 2015.
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