As the euphoria of reclaiming the Malaysia FA Cup slowly dies down for the LionsXII and their supporters, attention now turns to the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in June, incidentally hosted in Singapore. As such, here are the ratings for the victorious LionsXII side, with particular attention to the three (with *) in the squad for the upcoming Games.
GK Izwan Mahbud (9): Sponsors’ pick for man-of-the-match, and it’s hard to argue against. Made save after save to keep his side ahead, most notably his save from Columbian striker Erwin Carrillo on 11 minutes, and the highlight being the excellent dive to keep out Carrillo’s long range effort. Izwan won his running battle with the Columbian, but could do little to prevent Kelantan’s equaliser. As the LionsXII were pegged back during long periods of the game, Izwan rose to the occasion to deny Kelantan’s attackers.
RB Nazrul Nazari (6): Mostly solid at right back, the specialist right winger used his pace well to cover the centre backs. A poor clearance in the 34th minute gave Gilmar a chance to shoot at goal, while a lack of strength saw Nazrul brushed off the ball too easily, which also led to another strike over by Kelantan’s goalscorer Haikal. Nazrul did do supremely well to block Gilmar’s two attempts in as many minutes. A couple of well-timed tackles contributed to an overall composed display.
CB Madhu Mohana (8): Very solid in defence, Madhu held firm as he kept his defence compact and tight together. Though he got duped on 24 minutes which led to a shot from Carrillo, Madhu won most of his aerial battles and intercepted a couple of through passes. In all, Madhu managed to contain Gilmar’s strength and power, and this resolute display in such a big game will only give the defender more confidence for the future.
CB Zulfahmi Arifin (6): A defensive midfielder played out of position, Zulfahmi did well to combine with Madhu in defence. Less spectacular than his centre back partner, Zulfahmi gave a sturdy display, highlighted with a good block down the LionsXII’s left hand channel on 20 minutes.
LB Hafiz Sujad (6): More accustomed to left midfield, Hafiz gave a good account of himself at left back. He had a tough time keeping Kelantan’s goalscorer and right winger Haikal quiet, and so it proved as Hafiz’s momentarily lack of concentration and cover for his centre backs led to Haikal sneaking in behind to convert Gilmar’s superb lofted pass.
RM Gabriel Quak (5): It is no doubt that Gabriel has pace to burn, but throughout his career, the quality of his end product is no match for his lightning speed. And so it continued to prove in this final, as Quak was found by his team-mates as a useful out ball, to run down the touchline and relieve pressure on an at times beleaguered defence. However, whenever Quak did get into dangerous areas or stood over set-pieces, his delivery was disappointingly poor. His consistently poor first touch ensured he contributed little in the end. Subbed off late in the game.
CM Izzdin Shafiq (6): For most of the first 45, Izzdin pressed well and didn’t give the Kelantan midfielders much time on the ball. However, along with his midfield partner, Izzdin was usually found too far away from his centre backs in the first half, allowing the Kelantan attackers to receive the ball in dangerous areas in front of the LionsXII defence. In the second half, Izzdin gradually faded from the game, epitomised in the 79th minute with his poor choice to attempt a long shot when he had numerous options for a pass. Izzdin did provide the through pass for the LionsXII’s opening goal.
CM Safuwan Baharudin (6): The formerly on-loan A-League player was meant to use his newly acquired overseas experience to guide his team in this final, but playing in a relatively new position for the centre-back, Safuwan could not exert the kind of influence manager Fandi Ahmad would have wanted. Too often in the first half, Safuwan and Izzdin were lacking in their support for the back four. Though much improved in the second 45, it was Safuwan who lost Gilmar and gave the Brazilian the time he needed to control the pass and scoop the ball over the defence for Haikal’s equalising goal. Safuwan also had a free header from a corner on 86 minutes but headed straight to the keeper, which was disappointing considering his scoring record. When the LionsXII started to withdraw in the final 10 minutes, Safuwan managed to hold his midfield better and helped see his side through to the final whistle.
*LM Faris Ramli (7): Scorer of the first goal in the 7th minute, Faris was a constant threat on the left flank throughout the match. The winger made a good run inside to pick up Izzdin’s hopeful through pass, took a good first touch to round the goalkeeper, and had the composure to side foot home. In the second half, Faris could have shown more strength in certain promising situations that could have led to goalscoring opportunities, but overall did well to support the front men. Faris will be one of SEA Games boss Aide Iskandar’s key personnel in the tournament, with his relative experience playing in the M-League as well as this final only going to help him perform on such a stage and under more pressure. Most of the creative burden will be placed on the winger, and Faris will have to perform if Aide’s team is to get far in the tournament on home soil.
ST Khairul Amri (7): The once-touted star of Singapore football did well in hostile circumstances, constantly holding the ball up well and trying to link midfield with attack. Amri attempted a couple of long shots in the first half that were gathered comfortably by the keeper, and overall put in a hardworking shift, never allowing the Kelantan defenders a rest. Amri couldn’t add to his cup tally, but used his experience and did all he could to help his younger team-mates.
ST Khairul Nizam (6): Like his namesake, Nizam used his physique to hold the ball up and draw fouls in the opposition half. He was very positive and direct whenever on the ball, but was generally off target, with a 52 minute shot going over the bar from Amri’s cross. Nizam produced a good shift but did little in the final third.
*ST Sahil Suhaimi (on 57”, 8): On for Nizam, Sahil could not get into the game initially, as Kelantan held most of the ball and were constantly driving forward. He was not one for trying though, having a shot block in the 76 minute. Sahil’s determination and tenacity were finally rewarded when, on 81 minutes, he picked up a loose pass in midfield, drove straight into the heart of the Kelantan defence, and fired an unstoppable drive past the keeper. The diminutive forward utilised his pace very well to latch onto a long pass from Faris, with a great first touch taking the ball past the last Kelantan defender and drawing a foul in the penalty box. Sahil picked himself up to score the penalty, sending it straight down the middle, such was his confidence. He also held the ball up well down the corners to run down the clock. Sahil, along with fellow LionsXII team-mate Shahfiq Ghani and FC Metz’s youth team’s Adam Swandi, will be the ones who Aide will bank on to lead his team to victory in the SEA Games. Sahil has previous experience in the 2013 SEA Games, helping the side win bronze and finishing joint top scorer on 3 goals. He will certainly look to match or even better that tally in this year’s edition.
CM Firdaus Kasman (on 84”, 6): In place of Amri after Sahil had given the LionsXII the lead, Firdaus’ main job was to add numbers to the midfield and help his side hold on. The on-loan Tampines Rovers midfielder slotted in well alongside Safuwan and Izzdin.
*RW Christopher van Huizen (on 88”, 6): Former Tampines Rovers winger and star of local football reality/competition show First XI, van Huizen replaced the tiring Quak on the right side of midfield, with the main job of sitting deep and protecting his right back Nazrul. Having made only a handful of appearances for the LionsXII, van Huizen will look to the SEA Games as the platform for him to showcase his talents and make the necessary impact. Aide will likely look to van Huizen as a game-changing substitute, and the 22 year old will hope to use his SEA Games displays as a potential catalyst for more game time with the LionsXII next year.