KUANTAN - Coach Fandi says bad luck and rustiness prevented team from scoring against Pahang in opener.
Judging by the smile on his face, you would never have guessed that Fandi Ahmad's first match as LionsXII coach had ended in defeat.
It had, of course; yet Singapore's favourite footballing son was in a visibly upbeat mood yesterday as he prepared to board the plane home.
"I thought we did very well," he said of the previous evening's 0-1 loss to Pahang in his side's Malaysian Super League season-opener.
"We defended well and created a lot of chances... we were just a bit unlucky not to score."
That said, the 51-year-old acknowledged that the team are still finding their feet after an abbreviated lead-up to the campaign.
With the bulk of his 26-man squad involved in last month's SEA Games, Fandi had less than three weeks to get the LionsXII ready for the defence of their MSL crown.
"This is our in-season pre-season," he told The Sunday Times. "It will probably take another two to three weeks before we find the best ingredients for this team."
He is certain about the recipe, though. And it involves as many as six players going forward in search of goals, without compromising on defensive stability.
"Everybody has a role to play and theirs is scoring and creating goals, as well as making penetrating runs," the former national captain stressed.
"During games, we can sometimes change between 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 but it's not about the system. It's about how hard they work and whether they can track back."
And work hard they must; just ask Isa Halim, Zulfahmi Arifin and Hafiz Abu Sujad, who formed the LionsXII's central midfield triumvirate on Friday.
While those in more advanced positions fashioned no fewer than seven goal-scoring opportunities, there were numerous occasions when a loss of possession left the trio outnumbered in the middle of the park.
"Being in a three-man midfield means that we have more ground to cover," said captain Isa, who exited 10 minutes from the end with a back strain but is likely to recover in time for Tuesday's FA Cup clash against second-tier outfit DRB-Hicom.
"Our wingers are not superhuman - they cannot switch from attack to defence straightaway, so we have to both cover them and support the attack."
He can, at least, count on the help of team-mates like Sufian Anuar.
Praised by Fandi for his work rate and hold-up play on Friday, the hardworking striker is not one to shy away from his defensive duties.
"If there are midfielders further up the pitch than I am, I have to cover the space that they've left behind," he said. "That's the understanding we've got."
Sufian's main job, however, is getting goals. And despite failing to get on the scoresheet on his reintroduction as a LionsXII player, he is enjoying life as part of a multi-pronged forward line.
"My job is a lot easier now because I have more options available when I'm trying to hold up the ball," said the 26-year-old, who was often deployed as a lone striker in his first spell with the team in 2012.
And with the likes of Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak and Nazrul Ahmad Nazari providing the ammunition from wide areas, Sufian is confident of re-opening his LionsXII account sooner rather than later.
"The wingers did very well to create a lot of chances," he said. "It's just a matter of us strikers being more clinical in front of goal. "We're just waiting for the goals to come; once they do, we'll be on a roll."
What really matters
It's not about the system. It's about how hard they work and whether they can track back.
FANDI AHMAD, LionsXII coach
We're just waiting for the goals to come; once they do, we'll be on a roll.
SUFIAN ANUAR, LionsXII striker who is waiting for a goal rush
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