Afiq's zero numbers game

He was signed last December and was thrust into the first team of the LionsXII in the opening match of the 2014 Malaysian Super League (MSL) season.

Fandi Ahmad's side lost 1-0 to Pahang in Kuantan last month, but Afiq Yunos hardly looked out of place in the centre of defence alongside Safuwan Baharudin.

Reading the action well, stepping in with timely interventions and showing off some tough tackling, his stock has risen in every game since.

Displaying a maturity rarely seen in a rookie, Afiq is filling in nicely for Baihakki Khaizan, who left for Johor Darul Ta'zim.

He is a rising star who started in defence for the national team in their Asian Cup qualifier against Jordan on Wednesday.

But his outstanding performances have not prevented the LionsXII from conceding goals regularly, and Afiq is not happy.

Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, the 23-year-old wants a clean sheet tonight when the LionsXII entertain Terengganu tonight in an MSL clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

"The lack of a clean sheet in the MSL is a sore point for me personally," Afiq said.

"When the season started, my aim was to help the team concede fewer goals and keep more clean sheets than last season. "We are happy whenever the team win but, as a defender, I don't like it when there's any number other than zero in the opponents' column on the scoreboard."

ONE CLEAN SHEET

In three challenging MSL fixtures, the LionsXII lost 1-0 to Pahang, beat Selangor 2-1 before holding Johor Darul Ta'zim to a 2-2 draw.

Throw in the two FA Cup fixtures they played and the LionsXII have kept a clean sheet in just one match - a 3-0 win over second-tier DRB-Hicom FC.

They were knocked out of the competition by Pahang 2-1 last week.

In comparison to last season, the Singapore side conceded just 15 goals in 22 league games and kept nine clean sheets last season, en route to the title.

Both Afiq and his coach Fandi Ahmad attributed some of the goals they have let in this season to their propensity to concede free-kicks in dangerous positions.

"Sometimes (goalkeeper) Izwan (Mahbud), Safuwan (Baharudin) and I cannot do much when it comes to direct free-kicks if the opponent takes them well," said Afiq.

"But we have to take note of silly mistakes that lead to dangerous free-kicks around our area. At times, it could be genuinely mistimed tackles.

"On other occasions, because we play a more attacking game this season, we have more men forward, including the fullbacks, and we can be outnumbered during counter-attacks, so the defenders have to commit tactical fouls to break them up.

"We will definitely have to try to reduce the number of free-kicks conceded."

Fandi defended his defence, insisting it was not easy facing teams who field two big, foreign strikers.

Said the 51-year-old: "We have created plenty of chances but we have never finished off our opponents.

"If we had better finishing, we won't be here talking about the defence.

"We have focused more on attack. I don't tell the team to sit back. Rather, we have to attack and defend as a team.

"Sometimes, the players are late to cover for one another, but all this can be worked on during training and I'm sure we will improve in both attack and defence."


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