Johor Bahru – As the LionsXII were put through their paces on the Larkin Stadium pitch before their friendly with Johor FA, a familiar face stepped onto the pitch to offer a much welcomed intermission. Armed with his distinctive boyish smile, Singapore’s favorite footballing son, Fandi Ahmad, now team manager of the Scorpions, was immediately offered warm handshakes from everyone on the pitch. Most of the LionsXII boys had at one point in their career played under the leadership of Fandi and the gesture at Larkin was testimony to the high regard they have for the football legend.
Unfazed by the presence of Fandi for the opposing team, the LionsXII eventually emerged 4-3 winners as the match got underway on a cool Saturday evening in Johor Bahru. The LionsXII drew first blood through their newly recruited defender, Abdil Qaiyyim, who took advantage of a lapse in concentration from the Johor side as he converted with his head off a corner kick by Shaiful Esah in the third minute to give LionsXII the lead. Agu Casmir continued his scoring streak as he scored the first of his two for the evening in the 17th minute following a fine pass by skipper Shahril Ishak.
The Scorpions pulled one back when Munir Amran found space in the attacking third, and fired a left-footed shot into the bottom right hand corner which gave Hyrulnizam Juma’at no chance at all in the 26th minute. The two goal advantage was restored nine minutes later and it was again Agu Casmir showing some 1,000 fans in Larkin why he is still the man to watch in spite of the continued criticisms of his performances for the LionsXII.
Shahdan Sulaiman scored the goal of the game on the 38 minutes following a neat one-two with Agu Casmir who returned a perfectly timed through ball for Shahdan to put the ball through Zulfadhli Mohamed’s legs. There was still time for action in the opening period and Munir Amran got his second of the evening after a defensive blunder in the LionsXII backline.
Head coach V Sundramoorthy made a couple of changes for the second half probably to give his boys a run out as they are coming to the end of this league break. The second half saw Johor FA going on the offensive, and they had plenty of chances to comeback into the game but the lack of killer instinct in front of goal eventually let them down.
Hyrulnizam Juma’at was called upon to make a good save in the 69th minute to deny Johor FA. Munir’s deflected free kick almost caught Hyrulnizam wrong footed but the former Singapore Armed Forces FC’s custodian recovered to block the shot. However, Johor FA managed to pull another goal back in the 71st minute after Ahmad Tharmini Saiban capitalized on yet another slip up in the LionsXII backline to draw the Scorpions closer to a sensational comeback.
Hyrulnizam then produced the save of the game in the 82nd minute, when he charged bravely at the Johor attacker, after the latter went through cleanly on goal. Hyrulnizam’s reading of the ball and his reflexes proved crucial in preventing the opportunity for Johor FA.
Khairul Amri finally made his long awaited return to the game, and head coach V Sundramoorthy was pleased for his boy.
We all know that (Khairul) Amri has been missing out for the last couple of months, and I can tell you that just by seeing him back on the pitch, I am absolutely delighted”
Khairul Amri played 22 minutes in this win, and came through the game well despite being on the end of some tough challenges during the time when he was on the pitch.
Despite the win, Sundram insist that LionsXII could have done better defensively.
I am concerned about the back line and the manner of which the goals were conceded. We need to go back to the training ground to make sure we put that aspect right.”
His opponent tonight, Fandi Ahmad, is pleased with his charges, especially the performance in the second half.
It is a very exciting game. We started a bit sloppy maybe because we made a lot of changes. I thought my boys gave LionsXII a lot of respect, but they played really well in the second half,” Fandi told aXrosstheline.com
From this encounter, we did ourselves a favor as we clocked a good game to prepare for the next three home games in the league.”
“I thought this is a good result for us. The most important thing is that we showed plenty of confidence going forward in the second half and we created plenty of chances as well”
“(LionsXII) are a very good side, with experience, and that explains why they are currently on top of the Malaysia Super League, and it is definitely nice playing a good game against them.” Said Fandi
The scoreline may not have favoured Fandi tonight, but for the nostalgic among us, we were glad just to be there to witness the reunion of the legends.
LionsXII play Kelantan next in the Malaysia Super League on 4 May, in Kota Bharu.
LionsXII team vs Johor FA: Hyrulnizam Juma’at, Juma’at Jantan, Baihakki Khaizan, Abdil Qaiyyim (Safirul Sulaiman 46”), Shaiful Esah (Raihan Rahman 52”), Isa Halim (Firdaus Kasman 46”), Hariss Harun, Shahril Ishak, Shahdan Sulaiman, Irwan Shah, Agu Casmir (Sufian Anuar 46”, Khairul Amri 68”)