Malaysia Cup: Superb Safuwan

Singapore's Safuwan Baharudin celebrating his strike at the Malaysia Cup match.

LIONSXII 2 (Hariss Harun 61, Safuwan Baharudin 85) PERAK 1 (Noor Hazrul 66)

SINGAPORE - His first touch was sublime, his second allowed him to size up the situation.

The third stands, at this point, as the most important touch of the ball by a LionsXII player in the Malaysia Cup campaign.

And it was stunning.

With the score at 1-1 and just five minutes left on the clock, Safuwan Baharudin expertly controlled an Izwan Mahbud punt, and sent a stylish lob into the far corner of Farizal Marlias' goal.

That moment of inspiration from the central defender saw the LionsXII post a crucial 2-1 win over Perak at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, a result that has brought the Malaysian Super League champions back from the brink of elimination in Group D of the Malaysia Cup.

"After that free-kick (Noor Hazrul's 66th -minute equaliser) I did think that our Malaysia Cup campaign was over," said a relieved V Sundramoorthy, who could even afford a chuckle after the game.

"Safuwan's goal completely changed our day."

The result saw Sundram's charges move three points behind the top two teams in the group, Sarawak and Perak, with two games remaining for each side.

The excellent Hariss Harun put in a captain's performance. Donning the armband in the absence of the injured Shahril Ishak, he put the home side ahead in the 61st minute, heading in a peach of a cross from second- half substitute Zulfahmi Arifin.

But the lead lasted just five minutes. Goalkeeper Izwan failed to put a strong -enough hand to Noor Hazrul's free-kick and the ball squeezed in at his right-hand post.

Up stepped 21-year-old Safuwan, to save the day. "I was very relieved when Safuwan scored," said Izwan, who was not at his commanding best on Saturday night.

"I thought conceding that (free-kick) goal was my fault, but we got lucky. I'm really relieved because everything's good now."

It could have been very different.

Before Safuwan's moment of brilliance, Perak forward Paulo Rangel's 79th-minute header appeared to have crossed the LionsXII goal-line before Izwan pushed the ball back into play, but referee Nafeez Wahab and his assistant were unconvinced.

Lady Luck continued to smile on the LionsXII. Asyraf Sahizah's bullet header at the death beat Izwan, but whizzed just past the far post.

"In the first three group games, that ball would have gone in. We needed our luck to turn for us... but the boys did great, We didn't play like a team that were down and out - they showed great desire," said Sundram.

It was that very desire that saw Safuwan surge forward to get to Izwan's punt, and he was just as relieved as his teammates.

He said: "All I could think of was to get the ball into the net. Yes, we were lucky but sometimes in football, you need luck."

The top two in the group move into the last eight, and defender Baihakki Khaizan, who was outstanding on Saturday night, is confident they can go from strength to strength.

"We were very close to the edge of the cliff, but we didn't believe that we would go out. Now to qualify we must put in more hard work because our fate is in our hands again," he said.

The LionsXII face Sarawak on Sept 18 at Jalan Besar after a two-week international break, and will travel to Alor Setar three days later to face Kedah in the final group fixture.

shamiro@sph.com.sg

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