Malaysia Cup: Positive vibes in the air

His scream sliced through the air at the ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio yesterday.

Khairul Nizam's agony was evident as he went down, twisting and turning on the turf with his hands clutching his ankle.

The cackling laughter that followed was even louder than the scream, as Nizam stood up, grinning to himself.

Down 4-1 to Pahang going into tonight's Malaysia Cup quarter-final, second-leg clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium, a sombre atmosphere was expected at the LionsXII training session, especially with the team in limbo after learning earlier in the week that they will not feature in Malaysian football competitions from next year.

But the smiles seem to have returned to the LionsXII camp, with Nizam's wildly exaggerated injury just one of the several occasions laughter filled the air at training yesterday.

Coach Fandi Ahmad was pleased, because he believes it will help his charges as they gun for a 3-0 win to make the semi-finals.

And after the Football Association of Singapore gave the assurance that each LionsXII player will be paid his current monthly salary next year, Fandi said: "The mood is very good after the clarifications were made.

"The boys are very comfortable that they've been given assurances on their contracts, and it's important that we don't feel down, because we need to focus on this match - and fight."

"There is a small part of me that believes deep in my heart that we can still do this. We need desire, character and a bit of luck to pull it off," added the former Singapore captain.

Fandi will be without injured forwards Khairul Amri and Sufian Anuar in a game where goals will be vital.

"We've got only Nizam and Sahil Suhaimi left, and we'll maybe have to use Safuwan Baharudin up front too, but it's important that we get the early goal," he added, acutely aware of the need to prevent Pahang from scoring an away goal.

Tonight's fixture is almost certainly the LionsXII's last in Malaysian football, and that is not lost on Fandi, who called for fans to throng Jalan Besar and help the team fight another day.

"I hope the fans come down. This is a do-or-die mission for us, and we need the fans if we are to make it.

"I hope if we do, we get to play the semis at the (National Stadium at the) Singapore Sports Hub," said Fandi, laughing.

He turned more serious when he spoke about the future for his charges.

"We still don't know whether we'll play as a team (next season), or if we'll have to break up," said Fandi.

"I just hope it will be settled soon, whether or not we make it (into the semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup)."

Probable LionsXII line-up:

l Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Izzdin Shafiq, Zulfahmi Arifin, Gabriel Quak, Safuwan Baharudin, Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi.

This article was first published on Nov 28, 2015.
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