SEA Games to take priority over FA Cup

It was a result that would normally be celebrated - a 2-0 second-leg win over Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) II which sent the LionsXII into the Malaysia FA Cup semi-finals 4-0 on aggregate.

But a spot in the final four of the tournament has now presented the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) with a fresh conundrum.

With the FAS pulling out at least three key players from the LionsXII squad to allow them to join the SEA Games football team for centralised training, coach Fandi Ahmad is understood to be keen to discuss whether he can still field his strongest side for the two-legged semi-finals against Terengganu on May 9 and 16.

Influential winger Faris Ramli, forward Sahil Suhaimi and new addition, centre-back Shakir Hamzah, are the players who will be at the heart of the debate.

The Singapore Under-23 side coached by Aide Iskandar, will be involved in centralised training at the Singapore Sports School from May 1 to 9 before jetting off to Japan for another training camp from May 10 to 17.

A Malaysian Super League tie against KL Sime Darby on May 2 is another fixture that will take place during the training camps.

When contacted, FAS spokesman Gerard Wong said: " The Under-23 squad will stay intact for centralised training for the SEA Games." Already, this is the LionsXII's best-ever showing in this FA Cup tournament, with the final scheduled for May 23.

They had also reached the quarter-finals once before in 2012.

One of the SEA Games-bound players, Faris, stood out in last night's 2-0 win as he ended the night with an assist to his name.

His sublime pass over the top of JDT II's defence in the 65th minute found the galloping Nazrul Nazari and the latter's left footed finish gave the LionsXII their second goal of the night.

Earlier, Khairul Nizam opened the scoring in the 19th minute when he stooped low to head in Khairul Amri's free kick.

Faris' natural replacement on the left flank would be Christopher van Huizen but the latter, along with left-back Zakir Samsudin have also been included in the preliminary squad for the SEA Games football team, who kick-off their quest for a gold on May 29.

Speaking after the match, Fandi praised his charges for their display and has already started weighing up his semi-final opponents.

"It is a difficult place to come and play but the boys did very well, especially Amri and Nizam who combined well up front," said the 52-year-old.

"Terengganu are a very good team and they have excellent foreigners who can decide the tie.

"We will take the fight to them and hopefully we can make it to the final."

He will be hoping that his players will rise to the occasion, no matter if some of them may not able to lend a hand, owing to their SEA Games commitments.

This article was first published on April 23, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.