With much sway and swagger, the Young Lions played to a 1-0 win over the Harimau Muda, the pleasure of victory made all the sweeter by the fact that it took place in front of their delighted fans at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Both sides were coming into the match fresh from recent exertions, the Malaysians from a draining game in the S.League against Tanjong Pagar United, and many of the Young Lions from an age-group competition in Indonesia.
If they were tired, though, it did not show as this match played to a frenetic pace from the very first whistle.
Young Lions midfielders Sirina Camara and Sherif El-Masri were indefatigable attackers down both flanks from the start, persistently creating opportunities at Izham Tarmini Roslan’s goal.
At the back, Camara proved his worth as well, often stymying the Young Tigers attacks with razor-sharp clearances.
But a greater chunk of the action saw the hosts, playing in front of the television cameras, going on the attack.
As the eight-minute mark arrived, midfielder Hafiz Abu Sujad cleared a porous Harimau Muda defensive line and muscled his way down towards the edge of the field.
A sharp, low pass to forward Jonathan Toto deep inside the box led to a cheeky attempt at a back-heel that was close to going in, until Izham scooped it up at his right-hand post.
El-Masri then sent Toto chasing after a chance two minutes later with a quick low pass from the left, but the ball screamed past all in the vicinity of the six-yard box, the French forward trying in vain to reach it and drill home.
The pairing of El-Masri and Toto as feeder and finisher was proving too hot to contain for the Harimau Muda, who were missing the likes of Mahalli Jasuli, Fadhli Shas and Gary Robbat.
As the match headed towards the middle of the first half, the Young Lions were roaring more loudly than their opponents were growling.
Indeed, Robin Chitrakar’s charges were holding the lion’s share of possession – no pun intended – as they attacked ravenously, leaving the Young Tigers with a few ineffective counters of their own.
All that was missing was a goal, and even that was corrected after 29 minutes of play.
It came from a corner delivered by the ever-dangerous El-Masri, who struck it in search of the towering Toto.
The former Etoile FC hitman did not disappoint, a powerful downward header breaching Izham’s grip as the orb trickled over the line.
The Young Lions fans leapt up in sheer joy, having had to endure agony on 14 minutes when Faris Ramli had to be substituted with what appeared to be a very bad ankle injury.
But the entry of Shahfiq Ghani made up for it, and the hosts went into the break one goal up against the Young Tigers, whose coach Ong Kim Swee was shown the way to the stands in a game packed with drama.
As if sensing the heat, the heavens opened to bring a sheen of rain upon the players returning from the half-time break.
But that did not douse the hunger in Toto, who again menaced the Malaysian backline four minutes into the second period when another corner brought his thumping header downward again.
The difference this time was that Izham was in the perfect position to collect, and the Young Tigers, having endured a good bit of pushing from their opponents, were now determined to push back.
Midfielders Fandi Othman and Ahmad Hazwan Bakri provided much of the spark for them, and the latter especially was constantly threatening the goal, guarded by Syazwan Buhari.
But as the Young Lions defence held firm, the attacks were well neutralised, forcing the visitors to attempt inaccurate potshots from distance as the match climaxed towards the final whistle.
When the last good opportunity on the night presented itself, though, it was to the Young Lions.
On 79 minutes, El-Masri threaded the ball to substitute Nazrul Ahmad Nazari from the middle, setting the latter up for a one-on-one with custodian Izham.
It looked like Nazrul was certain to get goal, but Izham showed good instinct to get his legs to the ball, sending it ricocheting over his crossbar.
Barely a minute later, El-Masri placed his glancing header just past the left upright, yet by then it was clear the Young Lions would get their gritty and deserving victory.
Chitrakar for one was very pleased with the outcome.
“The boys did well and got the three points,” said the 35-year-old.
“They created the chances to do well. And defensively, they stayed composed to contain the Harimau Muda players.
“It shows how the team’s developing, growing more matured. We are a development side, and we showed improvement today from our earlier games; to constantly improve is the key for us.”
Ong was represented by his assistant coach Hassan Sazali at the post-match conference.
“We played a good game, but we lost,” he stated plainly.
“Today we tried for full points, we even tried to come back in the second half. We played a much more pressing game, but the Young Lions were too resolute and organised, especially in defence.
“We now have to concentrate on Sunday’s game against Albirex (Niigata (Singapore)).”
Article taken from sleague.com, written by Elwyn Lee
CYL Line up:
Syazwan Buhari, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Sirina Camara, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Faris Ramli (Shahfiq Ghani 14″), Aqhari Abdullah, Zulfahmi Arifin (Shamil Sharif 71″), Benjamin Lee (Nazrul Nazari 62″), Sherif El-Masri, Jonathan Toto