A nervous win

PHOTO: The New Paper

He came in for the post-match press conference heaving a sigh of relief.

His LionsXII side had just edged past Johor Darul Ta'zim II 1-0 in Group A of the Malaysia Cup in an entertaining game that could have gone either way, and former Singapore captain Fandi Ahmad was just pleased to gain a bit of breathing space.

The LionsXII fashioned several opportunities in front of goal, but in the absence of injured first-choice front man Khairul Amri, they managed to score just one, with JDT II also creating genuine chances at the other end.

Despite last night's win at the Jalan Besar Stadium and their 10-point tally, the LionsXII have yet to confirm passage into the quarter-finals.

Terengganu beat Kedah 3-1 last night to throw the group wide open.

With JDT II still to play Terengganu (Oct 27) before the final round of group games on Nov 7, the LionsXII could still be even booted out of the competition, even though they are top right now.

"What a relief... we were quite lucky. We created several chances and could have buried them, but they could have scored two or three goals, too," said Fandi.

"The last five minutes were a nightmare for us."

JDT II came out with a high-pressing game looking to choke the home side from the get go, but the LionsXII still managed to find a way out, with Shakir Hamzah in imperious form at leftback, bombing up and down the flank.

It was his 49th-minute cross that found Shahdan Sulaiman, and the midfielder was clinical with his finish from just inside the box.

Amri's replacement Sahil Suhaimi could have scored two on the night, both times with just the goalkeeper to beat. The first, in the ninth minute, saw him lift the ball over the on-rushing K Sasikumar, only to see it bounce wide, and the goalkeeper again did well to save from point-blank range just a minute before full time.

LionsXII custodian Izwan Mahbud was equally on form, standing tall in the face of a late bombardment.

The pick of his saves came in the second minute of added time when he palmed away an Irfan Fazail shot from inside the box after diving the other way.

"We should have got one point, at least," said a wincing JDT II coach, Nenad Bacina.

"We played entertaining football and the stats showed that we matched the LionsXII in almost all departments... but the team that score goals deserve to win."

With Madhu Mohana and Izzdin Shafiq receiving their second yellow cards of the competition last night, they will both miss the Nov 7 away fixture to Terengganu.

Fandi has quite a bit to think about, although time will be on his side.

"I'm very worried about the last game, and (with things still up in the air) I'm not sure how we will approach it," he said. "But now we have a three-week break. I don't think it'll be good for us, but maybe we need a break."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 18, 2015.
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