Tuesday, July 02, 2013
Youthful LionsXII Close In On Malaysian Super League
SINGAPORE — Winning a title in front of their home fans is how the best teams want to do it, and at Jalan Besar Stadium tonight, the LionsXII hope to capture the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL) crown by beating visitors Felda United in the final home league match of the season.
After being set a pre-season target of a top-five finish in the league for the team with only five players aged 23 and above, V Sundramoorthy’s side have confounded naysayers by exceeding expectations to be on the verge of clinching one of the three top-tier competitions in Malaysian football.
With a four-point lead in the 12-team MSL — built on a five-month unbeaten run and nine wins from 10 home matches — victory against Felda would earn them the league crown and render academic Saturday’s final league match in Kota Bharu against newly-crowned Malaysia FA Cup winners Kelantan.
Things could not be set up any better for the Singaporeans.
Felda are second from bottom with just three wins all season and coach Azuan Zain assumed his role just three matches ago. They also arrived with only their third-choice goalkeeper Rozaime Rohim — regular custodian Helmi Eliza Elias is suspended while reserve Anis Faron was unable to travel.
On the flip side, two of Felda’s three wins have been away from home — at Perak and Negeri Sembilan — and they gave Johor Darul Takzim a mighty scare last Saturday, coming back from a goal down for a share of the spoils.
But Sundram knows the biggest danger is underestimating a side with their backs to the wall.
“Teams that are fighting relegation are dangerous, in any league, not just the MSL,” said the former Singapore international.
“We must be cautious, we know their strength and will try to neutralise it, capitalise on their weakness and try to finish the game as fast as possible.
“Felda will be out to frustrate us, that’s for sure. But our boys know how important this match is, they’ll take a few minutes to settle down after kickoff, and then we get on with the business.”
LionsXII captain Shahril Ishak has led by example with seven goals, and played his part as a senior in a dressing room full of less-seasoned players. While he knows the MSL trophy will be at Jalan Besar Stadium tonight, ready to be presented should his team win, it is a thought he is keeping well out of his head.
“I am not thinking at all about lifting the trophy or how we are going to celebrate,” he said.
“We have to stay focused. The players are motivated and I have spoken to them to ensure they remain level headed.
“Felda will not just let the title fall in our laps, and we are fully aware of how difficult they will be.
“The good thing is we are at home, where we have been strong all year. Our fans, for whom we are named after, will be out in full force, and it will be up to us to fight to the end for them.”