LionsXII's Zul ready for Malaysia Cup duel with Pahang's Conti and Dickson
LionsXII utility player Zulfahmi Arifin has realigned his Malaysia Cup focus on quarterfinal opponents Pahang and their fearsome strike force of Dickson Nwakaeme and Matias Conti.
Zulfahmi partnered Madhu Mohana in the middle of defence to help LionsXII to a 2-1 away win over Terengganu on Wednesday night. The result saw LionsXII and Kedah FA qualify from Group A, to set up meetings in the last eight against Pahang and PKNS respectively.
"It feels good to have won our last group game on this tough ground," Zul told ESPN FC from Terengganu. "We managed to finish at the top of our group and end on a high to give ourselves a morale booster going into the knockout stages.
"We went into this game wanting to get a result instead of depending on the Kedah and Johor Darul Ta'zim II's game. We did it, I am happy and more importantly, the team can now continue our Malaysia Cup goal."
Having negotiated the group stages, the LionsXII must now get themselves ready for a blockbuster tie against two-time defending champions Pahang.
In their two Malaysia Super League meetings this year, Zainal Abidin's side won 3-2 at the Darul Makmur Stadium before LionsXII exacted revenge with a 4-2 victory at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Zulfahmi, who played in both matches, is relishing the prospect of a reunion with the fearsome duo of Dickson and Conti. The import strikers have scored six goals in the competition so far.
He said: "It will not be easy playing Pahang. They are very experienced when it comes to winning such tournaments and their record speaks for itself. We must remember that league and cup matches are very different.
"In the league, you have a long season and can have bad spells. When it comes to cup tournaments, once you lose focus, you could be out of it the next day.
"Dickson and Conti are two of the most physical attackers in the Malaysian scene that I have come up against. We must not give them space or allow them to take shots inside the box. Easier said than done but if we want to progress, then we have to stop them."
Although Pahang pose a huge stumbling block in LionsXII's passage to the semifinals, Zulfahmi reckons the team will be up for the challenge, simply because of how much the Malaysia Cup meant to them when they were growing up.
"My childhood dream was to don the national team jersey," he said. "I am proud and humbled to have been given the chance to play for Singapore, but as I continue my professional football career, I now understand how important it is to do well for the club you play for.
"And the Malaysia Cup being such a prestigious tournament, I am sure the team and myself will go all out and try to go as far as we can."
LionsXII will face Pahang over two legs on Nov. 24 (away) and Nov. 28 (home).
Quarterfinal first legs (Nov. 24):
Pahang vs. LionsXII
Kedah vs. PKNS
FELDA vs. JDT
Sarawak/Perak/ATM vs. Selangor
Quarterfinal second legs (Nov. 28):
LionsXII vs. Pahang
PKNS vs. Kedah
JDT vs. FELDA
Selangor vs. Sarawak/Perak/ATM