Striker Khairul Nizam, celebrating with Gabriel Quak, scored LionsXII's first goal in the 2-1 win against Terengganu in the Malaysia FA Cup semifinal first leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday. Photo credit: LionsXII.
LionsXII capitalised on home advantage prevailing over Terengganu FA 2-1 in their Malaysia FA Cup semifinal first leg match at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.
First half goals from Khairul Nizam and Faris Ramli set the Singapore side on their way. But Gustavo Lopez netted a crucial away goal just before the break to make it all to play for in the second leg on May 16.
The visitors created the first opportunity in the fourth minute when Gustavo Lopez's lob found Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, who went past Madhu Mohana only to see his fierce drive palmed away by an alert Izwan Mahbud.
Fandi Ahmad's men were not to be outdone as they began moving the ball around quickly, implementing their trademark passing game. Gabriel Quak fired a tame effort at Sharbinee Allawee in the 10th minute.
The Turtles tried to push forward but it was evident that the home team were growing in confidence.
Safuwan Baharudin, returning from his loan spell in the A-League with Melbourne City, almost opened the scoring on 17 minutes when Faris Ramli found him at the far post with a brilliant free kick. The 24-year-old was about to pull the trigger but his feet got tangled up and the chance went begging.
Khairul Nizam and Quak had two wonderful opportunities in the 21st and 22nd minutes. But a combination of good goalkeeping and poor first touch kept the scoreboard unchanged.
LionsXII's attacking game finally paid off in the 30th minute when Quak fired in a good cross that Azlan Zainal failed to clear leaving Nizam the simple task of blasting past a hapless Sharbinee.
The home crowd were up on their feet again four minutes later when LionsXII doubled their lead through Faris Ramli.
In a pattern of play similar to the first goal, Nazrul swung in a peach of a cross and almost found Nizam who was charging in. But Faris was at the far post to drill it home.
Terengganu managed to pull one back six minutes from the break when Lopez curled a sensational free kick into the top left corner.
A series of chances fell the way of the Turtles in the 43rd minute. But luck was not on their side with Ashari Samsudin and Abdul Manaf both hitting the right post before referee Zamzaidi Katimin blew the half-time whistle.
No changes were made at the break and the start of the second half had a similar storyline as the opening 45 minutes. Nizam tore through the Terengganu defence barely three minutes after the restart but Sharbinee was on hand to deny the in-form striker.
Quak almost scored the third in the 52nd minute, after Vincent Bikana's back-flick fell into the winger's path. But his delicate chip floated glaringly wide with Sharbinee stranded.
Two minutes later, Norshahrul's mazy run presented Lopez with a chance from three yards. But the Argentine sent his shot straight into the Jalan Besar floodlights.
The pendulum swung back LionsXII's way in the 55th minute. Khairul Amri's cut-back across goal was put wide by Nizam, who gave the Turtles' backline a torrid time right through the game.
It was quite strange for a semifinal showdown to have such porous defending. The home side were lining up for shooting practice with Safuwan next up when he rifled a 60th minute shot, only to be pushed away by Sharbinee.
However, it took another 13 minutes before LionsXII recorded another shot. Amri cracked a powerful shot straight into the keeper after a delicate flick off the head of Safuwan.
With five minutes remaining came the save of the match, Sharbinee keeping his team's final chances alive when he tipped Amri's powerful header onto the bar to the relief of coach Abdul Rahman Ibrahim.
There were no more goals in sight and the score stood at 2-1 to the LionsXII, setting up a tantalising second leg at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Kuala Nerus in a week's time.
Pahang take on Kelantan in the other semifinal.
LionsXII: Izwan Mahbud (GK)(C), Hafiz Sujad, Madhu Mohana, Zulfahmi Arifin, Nazrul Nazari, Izzdin Shafiq, Safuwan Baharudin, Faris Ramli (Sufian Anuar 87'), Gabriel Quak (Syafiq Zainal 66'), Khairul Nizam (Sahil Suhaimi 64'), Khairul Amri
Terengganu FA: Sharbinee Allawee (G), Zubir Azmi, Vincent Bikana, Azlan Zainal, Helmi Remeli, Nordin Alias (C), Sharin Sapien (Hafizal Mohamad 81'), Ashari Samsudin (Zairo Anuar 69'), Abdul Manaf, Gustavo Lopez, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha