'We just collapsed'

'We just collapsed'
TOO FAR FOR FARIS: Selangor's Robert Cornthwaite and Rezal Fahmi getting the better of LionsXII winger Faris Ramli(in blue).

SELANGOR 4

(Afiq Azmi 7, 12, 16, Guilherme de Paula 79)

LIONSXII 0

It had looked promising at first.

A 5-3 home victory over PDRM on the opening day of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) season seemed to suggest that the LionsXII were ready to put their dismal 2014 campaign behind them.

Two months on, and the Singapore side are still waiting for their next chance to raise their hands in triumph at the final whistle.

It looked promising last night at the Shah Alam Stadium as well.

The opening five minutes saw the LionsXII put Selangor under pressure, and striker Khairul Amri came close to scoring with a flash header from inside the box.

But, just like the past two months, it all went pear-shaped for Fandi Ahmad's side after that.

A hat-trick by Selangor's Afiq Azmi inside 10 minutes early in the first half helped the MSL leaders to a 4-0 victory over the LionsXII.

Brazil forward Guilherme de Paula added salt into the LionsXII's wounds with the home side's fourth goal in the 79th minute.

Last night's defeat means the Singapore side remain ninth in the standings with just seven points from eight games.

Coach Fandi Ahmad didn't hide his displeasure after the game.

"It was one of those days where the team just collapsed," he told The New Paper.

"The first goal stunned us, and it was punishing for us to concede another two so quickly.

"It was shocking defending from my boys. Usually, we're so tight at the back."

It was a harsh result for Fandi, who, despite the loss of defender Safuwan Baharudin at the start of the season, has managed to improve the team from last season.

From last night's heavy defeat, however, he might have to ponder over these points:

Zulfahmi in central defence

Safuwan's departure to the A-League has exposed the lack of depth in the LionsXII's defensive ranks.

With Afiq Yunos sidelined by a long-term injury, Fandi has had to call on midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin to partner Madhu Mohana in central defence.

The move may have its merits during home matches, as Zulfahmi - a cultured left-footer - can start moves from deep.

But, during away matches, his defensive frailties are easily exposed, as it was in the 12th minute last night, when he lost the ball in his own area for Afiq to score Selangor's second goal.

Time for a change in formation

Do the LionsXII really have to play a 4-2-3-1? What happens when there aren't the right players for the approach?

For the LionsXII, the lack of a playmaker is the most telling.

Zulfahmi took on that role last season to little effect, while natural attacking midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman is still recovering from a broken ankle.

Fandi fielded three defensive players in central midfield last night, all of whom provided little support for Amri.

When a second striker, Sufian Anuar, came on for defensive midfielder Raihan Rahman after 28 minutes, the LionsXII at least had numbers going forward and managed shots on goal.

Confidence dip

One win in eight games can't be good for team morale, and a dip in confidence is Fandi's biggest concern now.

The FA Cup has been a good respite for the LionsXII and, with the second leg of the quarter-final tie against Johor Darul Ta'zim II looming on Wednesday, the coach has the crucial task of keeping his players focused on a place in the last four.

Fandi said. "The coaches and I have to try and motivate the boys again, maybe even make a few changes. I don't know, but our options are thin."

 

This article was first published on April 19, 2015.
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