LionsXII beats Pahang as Malaysian adventure ends

Izwan Mahbud walked out of the dressing room, with his face in his hands, tears still streaming down his face.

The goalkeeper had put in a good shift between the sticks, as the LionsXII beat Pahang 2-0 in the second leg of their Malaysia Cup quarter-final at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.

But, all around him, were teammates with equally teary eyes.

Trailing 4-1 from the first leg and with their backs against the wall, Fandi Ahmad's charges came out with all guns blazing, scoring two goals in the first 20 minutes, but fell just short of overturning the three-goal deficit.

The 4-3 aggregate defeat was not only the LionsXII's final involvement in the Malaysia Cup, but also their last stand in Malaysian football, after the Football Association of Malaysia decided on Tuesday not to renew the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that saw the LionsXII play across the Causeway since 2012.

Tears flowed when referee Zamzaidi Katimin blew the whistle to end the game, and were still flowing long after the floodlights were turned off.

FIRE

"I told the boys before the game that no tactics can win us this game, it's about fire and desire, discipline and commitment... and I was surprised that they did so well," said Fandi.

"We went down fighting, and nearly made it. It just wasn't our day, but it was good to end the year without losing any games at Jalan Besar.

"A lot of players cried, the fans cried too, but I think we did Singapore proud."

With Faris Ramli and Chirstopher van Huizen penetrative in the wide areas and Izzdin Shafiq bossing the midfield, the LionsXII took just 12 minutes to score.

Van Huizen, who turned 23 yesterday, scored with a lovely left-footed volley after the Pahang defence failed to clear their lines.

Six minutes later, Faris raised the roof at Jalan Besar, meeting a peach of a cross from Nazrul Nazari to score the second goal on the night.

Given a torrid time by Pahang frontman Dickson Nwakaeme in the first leg, Madhu Mohana marshalled the defence with distinction, keeping the Nigerian quiet for almost 70 minutes, before he was withdrawn following a shoulder injury.

With Shakir Hamzah also solid in a defence that was backed by an excellent Izwan in goal, it seemed that the LionsXII believed they could pull off a miracle.

SEA OF RED

Backed by a near sell-out crowd that turned Jalan Besar into a sea of red - some were in their seats two hours before kick-off - the LionsXII needed just one more goal to go through on the away-goals rule, but their performance fizzled out in the second half.

"We're all sad, we've really grown as a team over the last few years, but we don't have a choice, Malaysia doesn't want us there," said Madhu, his right arm in a sling.

"But, at the end of the day, it's their loss, I think they'll regret it in time to come."

The defender was at least proud of the way his team performed on their last night of Malaysian football.

"We're very happy with the performance. Before the game, we told each other that we had to play well, play for the fans who deserve a performance like this after being with us for these four years," he added.

Fandi revealed that he has already received offers from Malaysian clubs, as do some of his players, but he would prefer to keep the team together.

"I hope a decision (on the future of the team) is made soon and, whatever it is, I hope it's good for the boys," he said.

"It's been a wonderful journey, and I believe fans will miss this atmosphere... but we must move on."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on November 29, 2015.
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