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 By Kelvin Leong

LionsXII must deliver the perfect game plan to mark nation's 50th birthday

The LionsXII have yet to lose a league game at the Jalan Besar Stadium this season. Photo credit: FAS

The LionsXII's insipid showing in the 4-2 defeat at Terengganu on Wednesday night exposed the lack of depth in the Singapore outfit that had gone unnoticed for much of the 2015 Malaysia Super League (MSL) season.

While the loss can be attributed to the home team's free-flowing football driven by Issey Nakajima Farran and Ismail Faruqi, it was obvious that the absence of injured duo Khairul Amri and Faris Ramli proved to be the visitors' main downfall.

Up against Zainai Abidin's rampaging Elephants -- top of the table and on a 12-match unbeaten league run -- the LionsXII will have it all to do if they are to extend their unbeaten home record in what will be a celebratory weekend across Singapore.

The Lion City will be celebrating its 50th birthday on Sunday so the boys in red will be eager to kick off the celebrations with a rousing victory.

Here are three thoughts on how Fandi Ahmad's side might stop high flying Pahang:

If Amri fails to recover from injury, his brother Nizam will need to step up and prove his worth on home soil. Photo credit: Asiana.my

1. Faris Ramli and Khairul Amri must come to the party

The two key attackers paid the price in LionsXII's 2-1 home win over Felda United last Sunday as they limped off with injuries, leaving Fandi short of options against Terengganu.

Syafiq Zainal and Sufian Anuar's audition to be part of the main cast did not go as planned as both players were substituted at the halftime.

Up against a Pahang defensive spine marshalled by former English league payers Damion Stewart and Zesh Rehman, the speed and guile that Faris and Amri bring to the pitch is crucial to scoring goals.

If either player fails a late fitness test, the LionsXII do have two men who can get the job done if called upon. One is FA Cup final hero Sahil Suhaimi while the other is Khairul Nizam -- who scored in the 3-2 loss at JDT earlier this season.

The home team will look to last season's fantastic 4-1 league victory over Pahang for inspiration -- Sufian scored a hat-trick in that game -- but their eight-game unbeaten home streak will be severely tested against a side who are brimming with confidence.

Contil and Nwakaeme will aim to add to their 16 league goals when they take to the pitch on Saturday. Photo credit: Asiana.my

2. Pahang's fearsome strike duo

Argentine forward Matias Conti took a backseat on Wednesday to allow his strike partner Dickson Nwakaeme to bask in the limelight with both goals in Pahang's 2-0 win over ATM FA.

Conti is having a brilliant season with 10 league goals so far and his Nigerian counterpart is refusing to play second fiddle, taking his own goal tally to six after Wednesday's game.

Both attackers combine power and finesse with consummate ease. They will put LionsXII's centre-back pairing of Madhu Mohana and Zulfahmi Arifin to the test.

Neither player looked comfortable against Terengganu and another dismal showing will spell trouble for the Jalan Besar faithful.

Izwan and the LionsXII fans will be desperate to keep their unbeaten home run intact against the league leaders. Photo credit: FAS

3. No fear in the Lions artificial den

Pahang's dozen game unbeaten streak may be a formidable statistic for any opposing team but Fandi's charges are a different proposition when they play in the Lions' den.

In the last two home games against Perak and Felda United, the FA Cup champions rallied to a comeback wins after trailing in both matches. No matter how they start the game, there are rarely any nerves when playing on the artificial pitch of Jalan Besar.

And when all else fails, there is always the ever reliable Izwan Mahbud in between the sticks.

The 25-year-old has had an outstanding season for club and country. Up against the likes of Conti and Nwakaeme, the keeper will be keen for a clean sheet to boost his already blossoming reputation as one of Southeast Asia's best.

So Pahang will go all out to keep their unbeaten league run intact while the fearless LionsXII will head out to their favourite home ground and hope to clinch a seventh home win in nine matches. This is likely to be a match we'll be talking about for a long time.

ESPN FC editor Kelvin Leong is a former media officer for Singapore and ex-regional editor of ESPNSTAR.com. Twitter: @KelvinLeong29.

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