Even in victory, a gutsy one at that, the luckless LionsXII were dumped out of the Malaysia Cup.
Fandi Ahmad's men displayed their battling qualities to come from behind to beat holders Pahang 2-1 in Kuantan but Felda United's 3-1 win at Johor Darul Takzim II meant that the Singapore outfit could no longer secure one of the top two spots in Group A to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Felda lead the standings with 10 points, Pahang are second with nine while the LionsXII are on five points and even a win at Felda on Tuesday in their last fixture will be inconsequential.
While it is bad news for the team to limp out so early in the competition, the cup exit will probably bring some consolation to national head coach Bernd Stange, whose Lions are largely made up of the Under-23s in Fandi's team, ahead of November's mission to defend the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
After going behind to a Dickson Nwakaeme strike in the ninth minute at the Darul Makmur Stadium, the LionsXII clawed back, thanks to a pair of headers from striker Sufian Anuar and right-back Madhu Mohana in the 51st and 83rd minute respectively.
Needing nothing less than three points to avoid a premature exit from the traditional cup competition, Fandi started with two strikers in Sufian and Khairul Nizam, who was passed fit after an impressive 45-minute display against Johor Darul Takzim II in the last game.
The 23-year-old striker not only managed to last the entire game, but he also put in yet another tenacious display in front of goal.
He almost gave his side the lead in the third minute when he attempted a spectacular bicycle kick that agonisingly whizzed past the Pahang goalmouth.
Despite dominating proceedings in the first half, Fandi was let down again by defensive lapses.
Not one but four players - Safuwan Baharudin, Baihakki Khaizan, Isa Halim and Madhu - were caught ball-watching as midfielder Azamuddin Akil sent a low cross into the penalty box that reached Nwakaeme and the Nigerian striker made no mistake to slot past Izwan Mahbud.
The remainder of the game almost served as a reflection of the LionsXII's roller-coaster season, which saw them finish eighth in the Malaysian Super League a season after lifting the title.
In Kuantan, the visitors dominated possession and created more goal-scoring chances. And their persistence paid off when Sufian leapt highest to meet Madhu's cross, looping his header past goalkeeper Nasril Nourdin.
Seven minutes from time, Madhu himself turned goal-scorer by heading in a Faris Ramli free-kick that was delivered to the far post.
Although dejected, Fandi took pride in his players' fighting qualities. He said: "This result and display was what we have been looking for in a while.
"We fought with a never-say-die attitude and proved that we are still a team to be reckoned with. The fans can be proud of the team tonight.
"The boys were eager to go through to the next round but this is the cruelty of football and this will be serve as a good lesson for them."
This article was first published on August 30, 2014
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