LionsXII fit to prey on Selangor

FANDI Ahmad cut a relieved figure on Wednesday, and not just because the goals had flowed during his home debut in the LionsXII dugout.

Injuries to centre-back Safuwan Baharudin (knee) and right-back Faritz Hameed (stubbed toe) in Tuesday's 3-0 Malaysia FA Cup first-round win over DRB-Hicom have proven to be less serious than initially feared.

Crucially, the defensive duo are expected to feature against arch-rivals Selangor in their Malaysian Super League (MSL) home opener on Saturday.

"They just need some rest; I expect them back in training by Friday," Fandi said ahead of the clash against the 32-time Malaysia Cup winners at Jalan Besar Stadium.

Faritz said: "It's Selangor - even if I'm feeling less than 100 per cent, I want to play."

With strikers Khairul Amri, Shahfiq Ghani and Khairul Nizam all fit again, this is the first time Fandi has a full squad to pick from.

"It's a good headache having to pick 11 players and it gives me more options in attack," said the former national captain.

A fit and firing outfit is just what the doctor ordered as Selangor hitman Paulo Rangel is in deadly form.

The Brazilian, on loan from Thai powerhouses Muangthong United, bagged a brace in a 2-0 league win over T-Team last Saturday.

He also opened the scoring when they beat Harimau Muda 'C' 2-0 in the FA Cup on Wednesday.

The team are built around the 1.88-metre target man, who thrives off playing with his back to goal and exchanging one-twos with pacy wingers S. Kunanlan and Fitri Shazwan.

"Rangel is their main man but, overall, they are a solid side with experience, pace and technique," noted Fandi. "Our centre-backs Safuwan and Afiq (Yunos) cannot afford to let their guard down or he will punish us."

The Red Giants are among the favourites to claim the LionsXII's MSL crown after investing heavily over the off-season.

Besides Rangel, who scored nine goals in 16 starts while on loan at Perak last season, there were 15 other additions - such as Indonesian playmaker Andik Vermansyah and former Perth Glory sweeper Steve Pantelidis.

Hoping to upset the odds is LionsXII forward Sufian Anuar, who scored one and created two against DRB-Hicom.

The 26-year-old is sometimes criticised for lacking the final touch, scoring just five times during the 2012 campaign.

But he has vowed to fight for his place.

"I've always had to deal with people saying I run a lot but there's no end-product," he said.

"I know my job is to score goals. If given the chance against Selangor, I aim to do just that."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


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