|By Bhas Kunju
Chief Editor, Goal.com Singapore
On Thursday night, the LionsXII will face an uphill battle of reaching the Malaysia Cup final, 18 years after they last won it.
A 1-1 draw against ATM FA in the first leg on Friday evening means they will have the disadvantage of carrying over a conceded away goal, and with the Singapore side looking dire in attack, the odds are firmly stacked against V.Sundramoorthy's men.
Speaking to Goal.com Singapore prior to the semi-final tie, Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad expressed his belief that the LionsXII are far better than anyone, including themselves, has credited them.
"I think they are a quality team but they don't realise it," said Fandi.
"They are a good team. Better than any Malaysian state team. That's why they finished second in the league.
"This is their first year. Maybe next year they'll do better. The Cup, they're still in it, but to finish second that says something about the team."
The Malaysia Cup veteran also singled out Shahdan Sulaiman as a key player for the team, but mentioned that the playmaker's form has dipped significantly in recent months.
"They have talented players," he added. "They have [Khairul] Amri, Shahril [Ishak], Shahdan [Sulaiman]."
"Shahdan for me was one of the best players this year. But the last few months his form's been dipping, dipping, dipping. I don't know if it's too much football or [lack of] concentration. I'm not sure."
Fandi pointed out that perhaps the change in lifestyle for the Malaysian football calendar had a negative impact on the players' well-being, but added that it was something that could be taken care of by the players themselves.
"Maybe they are not used to the way the League has been played," said the Johor manager.
"Because S.League is different. You travel for half hour then you go back home and sleep. Now, you travel-play, travel-play. It's different. During our time it's like that so we are used to it.
"So they must try to readjust the way they think, the way they sleep, the way they train. I'm sure the training has been handled by the coaches but the players themselves must take care of their health most importantly."
With the LionsXII stricken with injuries, Fandi speculated that the lack of fit players could possibly have translated to complacency given the automatic selection of some players.
"Especially now there are frequent injuries," he noted.
"Because now the boys can be taking things for granted. Last time they had to fight for a place but now there's no choice they put whoever is there."
The frequency of injuries affecting the LionsXII and generally players in Singapore was something that concerned Fandi. The former Ajax Amsterdam trainee and FC Groningen player added: "The worse thing is, there are a lot of injuries. The last 20 years I've seen Singapore players suffering from ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury."
"That means there's something wrong with training or something wrong with them. They didn't do proper training maybe. i don't know. During our days [as a professional football player] we never even heard of ACL injuries."
"If there are 10 injured players, 8 would be due to ACL. So something is wrong."
LionsXII will take on ATM FA in the second leg of the Malaysia Cup semi-final on Thursday night. Fandi, meanwhile will be in action on Sunday evening at the Singapore Indoor Stadium as part of the Dream Team at the EPL Masters event.