Matias Conti's 56th-minute goal was enough to beat the Malaysian Super League champions and give Pahang the Charity Shield and the first three points of the new seasonAfter all the hype about Fandi Ahmad returning from his “exile”, the attention turned to his team in the season opener as the LionsXII began their Malaysia Super League (MSL) title defense against Malaysia Cup winners Pahang FA on Friday night.
However, there was to be no fairytale beginning for Fandi and his young team as they were beaten 1-0 at the Darul Makmur Stadium, thanks to Argentinian Matias Conti. The early substitute made the telling difference as his rebounded effort was enough to condemn last season’s champions to a losing start.
Billed also as the Malaysian Charity Shield, the game got off to a frantic start and it was a wonder how the score remained goalless at the break.
As early as the first minute, LionsXII goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud was called into action to make a save from Dickson Nwakaeme after the huge Nigerian forward had barged his way into the box.
The LionsXII then had their first opportunity in the seventh minute when Sufian Anuar’s shot inside the six-yard box was blocked after a scramble in the penalty area.
Five minutes later, Pahang were awarded a free kick but Damion Stewart headed the ball well over.
The Elephants then had an excellent chance to take the lead after forward Azamuddin Akil played a neat one-two with Azidan Sarudin, but the former’s first time effort was saved comfortably by Izwan.
On the half-hour mark, Khairul Amri had a great opportunity to give LionsXII the lead when Sufian squared the ball to him. The 29-year-old’s first touch was exquisite but the resulting shot at the near post was saved by Khairul Azhan.
Stewart then missed a sitter a couple of minutes later after the ball reached him at the far post from a corner kick, but he side-footed the ball over from six yards.
The second half startedin the same manner as the first. Just two minutes into the second half, Sufian was left unmarked at a free-kick, but his header failed to hit the target.
Conti, who had replaced the injured Nwakaeme after 15 minutes, must have thought he had given his side the lead in the 54th minute but Izwan brilliantly saved his close-range header.
However, he was not to be denied three minutes later. Abdul Malik's initial shot was blocked by Izwan, but the Argentinian squeezed the rebound into the bottom corner.
The goal forced the LionsXII to come out in search of an equaliser and salvage something from the game, but it also meant they became more vulnerable at the back.
In the 68th minute, Faris Ramli’s cross from the left was deflected to Nazrul Nazari, but the latter’s left-footed volley went straight to Khairul.
Conti then had a couple of chances to seal the game for Pahang, the first on 82 minutes after he rounded Izwan, but his goal-bound effort was cleared off the line by the impressive Afiq Yunos.
The Argentinian then burst into the penalty box a few minutes later from the right but blazed his shot well over the bar.
Eventually, it didn’t matter as Pahang comfortably saw out the victory, condemning Fandi and his boys to a first competitive defeat of the new season.