It was a tale of three corner kicks as the LionsXII registered their first win of the Malaysia Super League (MSL) campaign in extraordinary fashion, after a bullet header from Khairul Amri right at the death gave them a 2-1 win over long-time rivals Selangor FA on Saturday.
Shakir Hamzah headed the reigning champions ahead at Jalan Besar Stadium from a corner on the stroke of half-time, but Selangor fought back and equalised when Fitri Shazwan nodded home just before the hour mark. But Amri stole the headlines when directed Shahfiq Ghani’s delivery into the top corner in the dying seconds.
The win gave Fandi Ahmad’s boys their first points of the season and preserved their unbeaten home record, which now stretches to 18 months.
As expected, the new LionsXII coach was quick to praise the resilience of his team after the game.
“Today, I thought our determination, discipline and character brought us this victory,” Fandi said at the post-match press conference.
“It’s not easy [but] we never gave up and everybody was on their toes. I thought it was a very fast game; Selangor are a very good footballing team, tactically they are superb but because of sheer determination and fighting spirit, teamwork, I thought we deserved [the win] because we fought until the end, even until the last attack.
“I don’t know the strategy of other coaches; they may be happy with a draw, but at home we must play and that’s our determination to win these three points very badly, and they were full of fire and desire.
“Win, lose or draw doesn’t matter for me [as long as] we perform, we entertain; we want to let people know we want to play football.”
The 51-year-old also gave special praise to match winner Amri, who not only lasted the whole game despite his recent injury problems, but also came up with the winning goal right at the death.
“I was determined not to take him off because I had the confidence he would score today,” the Singapore legend said.
“In training he looked sharp, but I was worried about his fitness and his groin and when he didn’t dribble [during] the one [chance in the first half] he should have, I thought 'oh no, he’s gone'. But he said 'I am okay, Coach'.
"Because when Sufian came out, he (Amri) was still running, receiving balls, holding [the ball] - that’s when I believed he would [score].
“I just want him to be healthy, that is very important because Amri, throughout his last few years, he’s always been injured at club level so this is a worry for us.”
Despite the nature of the win, Fandi was cautious about his team getting too carried away with the result, especially with the match against favourites Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) coming up.
“JDT is waiting for us, and it will be a different atmosphere with 30,000 to 35,000 fans,” Fandi said.
“We mustn’t get carried away with this win. I know these young boys are very determined. But the important thing is we go there with a focused mind and be more disciplined and we must believe that wherever we play, we must get at least three points or at least a point.
“They have to build their mentality to play at a high level because this is only the Malaysian league; in international games, they need to build more character."
Selangor coach Mehmet Durakovic was understandably disappointed to see his team lose in the cruelest of fashion.
“Absolutely,” Durakovic answered when asked if he felt hard done by defeat.
“The boys really fought well and both sides played some fantastic football. But to concede two goals from set-pieces, [one] three minutes before half-time and [another] in the 94th minute is very hard to take because I think we played quite well.
“They (LionsXII) are a good side, they pressure and they try to play football; same as us, but unfortunately two set-pieces [resulted in] two goals. The two centre-backs played really well, they didn’t give him (Paulo Rangel) an inch.”
The LionsXII will travel to Johor next to face JDT on Tuesday at the Tan Sri Dato' Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium.