Clad in the team's blue polo tees, they clutched their boarding passes and passports firmly in their hands, looking relaxed and at ease. But when asked about tomorrow's Malaysian FA Cup final, the laid-back demeanour of the LionsXII players vanished, to be replaced by a look of intense focus.
Speaking to The Straits Times before their departure to Kuala Lumpur from Changi Airport, Singapore internationals Madhu Mohana, Safuwan Baharudin and Gabriel Quak all agreed that tomorrow's showdown against Kelantan certainly ranks as the biggest match of their football careers thus far.
"This definitely has to be the biggest match for me," said winger Quak, who revealed that he burst into tears after they advanced on away goals following the two-legged semi-final against Terengganu.
"This is my first final at the senior level and I am really looking forward to getting out onto the pitch for the match.
"Compared to the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL) victory, a win in the final would be much sweeter for me because I have featured regularly in the lead-up to the final, so it really would mean a lot to me."
While acknowledging the magnitude of the match, Madhu is measured in his approach to the big day. "It is the biggest match but I am going to take it as just another game and not put myself under any unnecessary pressure," said the centre-back.
"The team that is more hungry will win the game. In the semi-final, it boiled down to the attitude and desire of the players. If we are hungrier than Kelantan, I think we will win the game."
In their journey to the final, the LionsXII defence, led by Madhu, conceded just three goals in six matches.
With Kelantan reaching the final after a 3-1 victory over FA Cup holders Pahang, Madhu is wary of the threat posed by the Red Warriors but he believes the LionsXII's backline has gelled as a unit.
"The more that the backline has played together, the more confident we have become. We need to fight for each other like we have done throughout the season and if we do, we stand a good chance in the final," said Madhu, who is into his fourth year with the LionsXII.
Even though he played and scored for Melbourne City during a three-month loan period this year, Safuwan ranks the final at Bukit Jalil Stadium alongside his A-League debut in the Melbourne derby and the 2012 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup final against Thailand as his biggest matches.
The 23-year-old said: "The Suzuki Cup final and my Melbourne debut are moments that I will always remember but this is a final and another chance to win a trophy."
Coach Fandi Ahmad agreed with his players, saying: "This game (the final) is definitely the biggest for us so far.
"It's a big thing for us, especially the players. They have to show a lot of composure and show that they can take the pressure."
Extra time and a penalty shoot-out will be played in the event of a stalemate but Fandi does not have any special plans for his men to put extra emphasis on their spot kicks.
He said: "They are fighters and they will fight for 95 minutes (90 minutes of regulation time with time added on).
"No, we haven't practised penalties. Because the game will be over in 95 minutes."
LionsXII v Kelantan
StarHub Ch112/Ch205 & 76.25MHz, tonight, 8.30pm
This article was first published on May 22, 2015.
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