Football: Time to win back the fans

Redemption work is about to kick off for the LionsXII.

After a disappointing Malaysian Super League (MSL) campaign, which saw the Singapore side go from champions last year to eighth place this season, coach Fandi Ahmad highlighted the need for his young team to improve in the Malaysia Cup.

If anything, for their loyal supporters.

Ahead of the 2014 Cup campaign, which begins tomorrow when the LionsXII take on Malaysian Premier League side Felda United in a Group A encounter at the Jalan Besar Stadium, 20 fans from Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities pledged their support for the team, along with 20 other die-hard supporters yesterday.

Speaking at the 12th Man pledge ceremony at Jalan Besar Stadium, Fandi assured the fans better days would come for the LionsXII.

The first step is to rectify their woeful home form.

The LionsXII were unbeaten at home last season, winning 13 of 15 matches on the artificial turf.

This year, Fandi's side have won just four from 11, losing as many and drawing three.

"Our home form definitely bothers me," Fandi told The New Paper.

"The confidence level was a bit low during the MSL season, and a few of the starters were still a bit immature in their play.

"But we have to set all that right. We have to win our home games to stand a chance in the Malaysia Cup."

The LionsXII are drawn alongside Pahang and second-tier teams Felda and Johor Darul Ta'zim II.

Fandi had already told TNP earlier that Safuwan Baharudin would be restored in central defence alongside the experienced Baihakki Khaizan in a safety-first strategy tomorrow.

In attack, the coach is set to pair top scorer Khairul Amri with Shahfiq Ghani (above).

While Amri has banged in seven goals this season, Shahfiq, 22, has had a frustrating year.

The left-footer played a big role in the LionsXII's title-winning season last year, scoring five goals.

At the start of the year, Fandi identified him as one of the key players.

But, suffering from poor form and a couple of injuries, Shahfiq never got into his rhythm.

"With Shahfiq, it's down to his mental strength. He has the ability, but he's got to be strong in mind as well," Fandi said.


"At his age, he needs to step up now because the team need him... He's lost weight and looks good in training, so hopefully, he does better in the cup."

Shahfiq is under even more pressure to deliver as the team's other strike options, Sufian Anuar, is suspended, and Khairul Nizam has been sidelined with a long-term knee injury.

Shahfiq, who has yet to find the net this year, said his coach's faith and a run of matches could be just the tonic.

"I'm looking forward to the Malaysia Cup, especially after the (national team's) training tour of Austria," he said.

"The games we played there were of high intensity, and that should (give us the edge) against the Malaysian sides.

"Playing with Amri is a good thing for me. I assisted three or four of his goals this season with set-pieces, and we combine well up front."

While no official target has been set, Fandi's personal goal is a semi-final spot.

To get there, the LionsXII need to end their struggles in front of goal.

Said the coach: "If by now we still have trouble scoring, then something is wrong - not just with us, but Singapore football, as a whole."

Tickets: Tickets for the LionsXII v Felda Malaysia Cup match at the Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow are on sale at all Ticketbooth platforms. Fans may purchase their tickets online at the TicketBooth website, the 12 TicketBooth outlets or through AXS machines island-wide. Match-day ticket sales will resume from 4.30pm at Jalan Besar Stadium (North Gate), subject to availability.


This article was first published on August 12, 2014.
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