Veterans confident of dream run

Veterans confident of dream run
Two generations came together yesterday at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio as former stars (from left, in white shorts) Razali Saad, Nazri Nasir, Malek Awab, Fandi Ahmad and Saswadimata Dasuki gave advice to the LionsXII at a training session ahead of Saturday’s Malaysia FA Cup final against favourites Kelantan in the Bukit Jalil Stadium.

THEY were dubbed the "dream team" and lived up to their billing, winning both the Malaysian league and the Malaysia Cup in 1994.

Twenty-one years later, a team from Singapore will once again compete in a Cup final, albeit as the underdogs when the LionsXII face favourites Kelantan in the Malaysia FA Cup final on Saturday at the Bukit Jalil Stadium.

According to the players from the 1994 squad, the notion of being unfancied will prove to be an advantage for the LionsXII.

"In 1994, everyone expected us to win. The pressure was really on us and God willing, we managed to win it," said midfielder Malek Awab, who was known for his box-to-box runs.

"Now, the players just have to go out and enjoy the final because no one expected them to get there.

"The pressure is off."

The 1994 team boasted the likes of Fandi Ahmad, South Korean defender Jang Jung, former Australian international Abbas Saad, Nazri Nasir and up-and-coming players Steven Tan, Lee Man Hon and V. Selvaraj, among others.

Malek added that the pivotal factor in Singapore's 4-0 win in the Malaysia Cup final against Pahang was scoring an early goal.

Abbas netted a volley in the early stages of the first half to give Singapore the lead before completing a hat-trick to add to Fandi's goal in the second half.

Lim Tong Hai, who started as a centre-back in the final, echoed Malek's views on the current players having nothing to lose.

He said: "In 1994, the team was called a "dream team" for a reason and then, in 2013, when they won the league, they had seasoned players like Shahril (Ishak), Baihakki (Khaizan) and even players like Hariss (Harun) and Safuwan (Baharudin) were starters in the national team."

"This team has really worked hard for each other to get to the final and now that they are there, they really have to just enjoy the occasion. The stage is set for them to make a name for themselves so let's bring that Cup back to Singapore."

The current crop of LionsXII players have made the final despite having to do without some of their key players.

Arguably their best player, defender Safuwan Baharudin, was on loan with Melbourne City and featured only in the two-legged semi-final against Terengganu.

Afiq Yunos, the team's first choice centre-back, was also ruled out early in the season with a serious knee injury, forcing coach Fandi to field midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin alongside Madhu Mohana at the heart of the defence.

Rafi Ali, the playmaker of the 1994 team, applauds the qualities of the current squad.

"I watched the semi-final and thought to myself, if this team can beat Terengganu the way that they did with pure grit and teamwork, then they can beat any team in Malaysia," said Rafi, who is currently the coach of Republic Polytechnic's male football team.

"People say that the LionsXII is a developmental team but they have showed that in football, there is no such thing as being too young.

"These boys are full of character and they deserve to be in the final."

While the 1994 double-winning team earned the moniker "dream team", the LionsXII also hope that, with the momentum already established, they too will fashion a dreamy moment to remember, come Saturday in front of a packed Bukit Jalil Stadium.

drajac@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 20, 2015.
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