LionsXII enjoy lucky win

Goal-winner Safuwan Baharudin, celebrating his strike last night, admitted that LionsXII had their fair share of good fortune against Perak.

In the end, it was job done for coach V.Sundramoorthy and his LionsXII at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

But even as they celebrated a 2-1 win over Perak that got their Malaysia Cup group-stage campaign back on track, it was impossible to ignore the part that luck played.

Indeed, all the questions at the post-match press conference centred on what-ifs that could so easily have seen the match turn out very differently.

What if Perak striker Paulo Rangel's header, with the score at 1-1, been adjudged to have crossed the line as television replays suggested?

"Yes," the Brazilian said with certainty when asked if it should have been a goal. "For sure."

Sundram, on the other hand, took a light-hearted view of the incident. "I couldn't see it", the 47-year-old said. "But even if it had gone in, I'd say no."

That said, the LionsXII coach certainly saw Khairul Asyraf Shaizah's stoppage-time header, which flew just past a stranded Izwan Mahbud's right-hand post.

"At that moment, I thought, 'Okay, my luck has changed at last'," Sundram later recalled. "In the first three games, that ball would have gone in."

Even without going into hypotheticals, it would be impossible to deny that apart from last night's victory, the LionsXII's Malaysia Cup campaign had been hinging on disaster.

One draw and two defeats in their opening three matches saw the Malaysian Super League champions go into last night's match rock bottom of Group D, their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals hanging by a thread.

"Our morale was down," Sundram admitted. "The boys needed this win for confidence."

And, cheered on by a crowd of 7,060, they eventually got the result they hungered for.

Midfielder Hariss Harun, donning the captain's armband in the absence of the injured Shahril Ishak, got the ball rolling in the 61st minute when he met substitute Zulfahmi Arifin's cross to head home. But the visitors took just five minutes to draw level.

From almost 30 metres out, Noor Hazrul struck a stunning free kick that was across the line by the time Izwan got a flailing hand to it.

The LionsXII goalkeeper then looked to have been beaten for a second time by Rangel's header, only for the officials to give the LionsXII the benefit of the doubt.

Izwan was again in the thick of things five minutes from the end - this time, for all the right reasons.

A long clearance by the 23-year-old was raced on to by centre-back Safuwan Baharudin of all people.

And the Singapore international showed all the composure of his formative years as a striker to get the ball under control and lift it over goalkeeper Farizal Marlias to give his side a much-needed win.

"All I was thinking was to get the ball in the net," Safuwan said later. "That goal came at a crucial time, just when we needed to score."

But even as he celebrated the goal that, along with Sarawak's win over Kedah in the group's other match last night, took his side off the foot of the table, the 21-year-old recognised that his side had enjoyed their fair share of good fortune on the night.

"Yes, we were lucky," he acknowledged. "But in football, you sometimes need a little bit of luck."

fabiusc@sph.com.sg


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