Fandi unleashes triangle

Left to right: Safuwan Baharudin, Shahdan Sulaiman and Izzdin Shafiq excelled in central midfield for the LionsXII in theri 3-0 win over Kelantan.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

It has been a long wait but after five months of Malaysia Super League (MSL) action, coach Fandi Ahmad finally has the midfield triumvirate that he has yearned for.

Shahdan Sulaiman, Safuwan Baharudin and Izzdin Shafiq started together for the first time this season in the LionsXII's 3-0 win over Kelantan on Saturday and they will look to combine to devastating effect again when the home side face Perak at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.

Shahdan is an attacking playmaker who likes to be on the ball, Safuwan is a box-to-box player while Izzdin likes to sit in front of the back four and is the ball winner.

"This is the triangle that I have been waiting for," said Fandi when asked about his midfield trio.

"Shahdan brings a special dimension to our attack and, with him, Izzdin and Safuwan, there is a great balance to our midfield."

The coach added: "The three of them are great on the ball and their movements (on the pitch) help us to play the way we want."

Fans took to social media after the last match to wax lyrical about the manner of the LionsXII's victory, with some likening the football on display to that of Barcelona and 2010 World Cup champions Spain's famed tiki-taka football.

Tiki-taka is characterised by short passing and movement, with the emphasis on possession and breaking down the opponents with quick passes.

Izzdin, Safuwan and Shahdan were central to the one-touch football that was on display that night.

"We have been training to play that kind of football for some time but it was great to see it all come together (against Kelantan)," said Fandi. He had been unable to field all three together till recently due to an injury to Shahdan and Safuwan's Australian sojourn.

Shahdan, 27, said by observers to be the most creative playmaker in the local game, broke his ankle while playing for the national team in December's AFF Suzuki Cup.

Despite the fact that he would miss the majority of the MSL season, Fandi signed the player.

The LionsXII reaped immediate rewards when he turned in a Man-of-the-Match display in his first start last Saturday.

Fans could see what the team had missed in his absence.

His ability to dictate the play and put in the defence-splitting pass gives the team a cutting edge in the final third of the field.

Safuwan, 23, returned to the LionsXII in May after a three-month loan stint with A-League club Melbourne City. He scored two goals in six appearances there.

He has excelled for the LionsXII since his return, with his box-to-box runs now a trademark of his midfield prowess.

Izzdin, 24, was a pre-season capture from Home United after the central midfielder had impressed in the S-League last season with his keen eye for a pass.

He has been a revelation so far for the LionsXII, with a sublime 50m pass to Faris Ramli in the Malaysian FA Cup final against Kelantan - a move which resulted in the team's first goal - the pick of his highlights this season.

"I am happy with how we played. The combination we showed was great but we can only get better," Izzdin noted. "I hope we can continue to play this way and attract more fans to watch us."

The three players have all been included in the Singapore Selection who will take on English FA Cup champions Arsenal on July 15 at the National Stadium.

However, before they pit themselves against Mesut Oezil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, Singapore's own terrific trio will need to excel against the MSL's most in-form team tonight.

Perak - on a three-match winning run - are third in the MSL, seven points ahead of the LionsXII.

Said Shahdan: "It is going to be a tough game because Perak are a good side but we have been playing well recently so we need to continue that and, hopefully, we get all the three points."

This article was first published on July 8, 2015.
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