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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Déjà vu demolition, two better than '94 vintage
Hariss turns in gargantuan performance as Sabah stunned by silky smooth Singapore groove 
by Shamir Osman 

SINGAPORE - Scenes of vintage football flashed across television screens before the LionsXII faced Sabah in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night. A Fandi Ahmad and Abbas Saad-inspired Singapore team thumped Sabah 7-0 at the National Stadium in 1994, and 18 years on, V Sundramoorthy's charges invoked a sense of déjà vu before going two better than the '94 vintage.

 The LionsXII demolished a hapless Sabah side 9-0 to keep the pressure on a Kelantan side second in the MSL standings, five points behind the Singapore side, but with six games in hand. "It's great to win like this, and as an attacker, it feels good to be scoring so many goals," said Shahdan Sulaiman, who chipped in with two goals on a night when each of his crosses seemed to have been on a laser-guided flight to a teammate.

 "Kelantan will definitely be looking at this result, and hopefully they'll drop some points somewhere along the way." Hariss Harun scored the first hat-trick of his career, with Agu Casmir, Irwan Shah, Sufian Anuar, and a Shahrul Azhar own goal adding to the improbable score line.

 Hariss walked out of the dressing room with the match ball under his arm - the spoils for a player who scores three in a game - on a night the 21-year-old led his team on a take-no-prisoners pillage of Sabah. A sheepish smile flashed across the face of the hard-tackling defensive midfielder as he was questioned about the trophy he held under his arm, but his game face quickly returned.

 He said: "It was a bonus to score three goals, but we still have a job to do, to win the three remaining games that we've got." Accused of depending on set-plays to find goals - three of nine came by way of the dead-ball - last night the LionsXII ripped Sabah to shreds with incisive passing movement inspired by several on the pitch.

 Hariss was indomitable in the midfield, slipping one threaded pass through a static Sabah defence after another, while Shahdan's pinpoint crossing drew William Tell references, with Juma'at Jantan in inspired form down the right wing and Casmir looking sharp. Said Shahdan who has scored eight goals so far:

 "Our strength is in set-pieces and we will continue to take advantage of that, but (last night) we showed that we can score from open play. The movement was superb, as was the team spirit we showed." Spirit was unfortunately lacking from the visitors, whose capitulation saw their some 50 travelling fans leave 15 minutes before the full-time.

 Said Sabah coach Justin Ganai: "Some of players did give up, but even though there were others who fought, we just couldn't do anything against a Singapore side that was just too good for us. "We just have to forget about this humiliating loss." LionsXII fans will not be forgetting this win anytime soon, the nine-goal margin is the biggest win recorded in the league this season, and harks back to a glorious Singapore past where football legends were born.

 Sundram was part of that enchanting history, and the visibly pleased coach paid tribute to his team, saying: "It was always great to (win big) in front of the some 60,000 fans at the National Stadium then, the atmosphere was fantastic. But (last night's result) is also great for Singapore football, and it was very pleasing to see our fans get behind us. "But Kelantan are still favourites, and hopefully this result will make them feel that we're hot on their heels and keep us in the race till the last day." The LionsXII face Terengganu away on Tuesday.

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