Shahril vows to take team into semis
SINGAPORE v MALAYSIA
(Tonight, 7.55pm, MediaCorp okto, SingTel mio TV Ch 114 & StarHub TV Ch 208)
Strictly going by the numbers, Singapore football captain Shahril Ishak has not exactly had a sterling year on the goal front.
The 30-year-old scored just three goals for Johor Darul Ta'zim II this season and only three in 19 games for the national team under Bernd Stange, compared to an average of more than 10 goals for LionsXII in 2012 and 2013, and six goals in 18 international games in 2012.
But, judging from his performance on the pitch, it is hard to criticise Shahril for not pulling his weight.
In both Suzuki Cup Group B matches against Thailand and Myanmar, the No. 17 looked to cover every blade of grass as he dropped deep to win possession, relayed the ball to a teammate, before hurtling forward into the the final third as Singapore tried to catch the opponents on the counter-attack.
It is not a role that he is used to, but Shahril is willing to run himself to the ground if that's what it takes to get the job done.
Especially tonight in their do-or-die Causeway Derby, where neither Singapore nor Malaysia can afford to lose at the National Stadium if they want to join Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand in the semi-finals.
"As an attacking player, of course I would like to score," said Shahril, who has 119 caps and 13 international goals.
"Of course I want to do better and get more goals, but I'm no longer the targetman like I was in 2012.
"I'm playing more like a back-up striker behind (Khairul) Amri, and I have to be more involved in the middle of the park and my job includes bringing the others into play.
"It's not easy to attack and defend, but it is a necessary sacrifice if we are to attack and defend as a unit.
"The team have to come first. Winning, not individual goals, is the priority."
National coach Stange also defended his skipper in recent press conferences, reminding critics of the fact that Shahril had been out for a few months due to a hamstring injury.
Shahril's experience and big-match temperament will be assets Stange should build on tonight.
After all, it was Shahril who scored a delightful double two years ago, when Singapore scored their biggest Causeway Derby win on away soil by beating Malaysia 3-0 at Bukil Jalil in the group stages of the 2012 Suzuki Cup.
But the man himself is not keen to dwell on the past, or on the fact that a draw should be enough to send the Lions through to the semi-finals.
"It is new match, and it will be a different game," said Shahril.
"It is a big derby, the rivalry will be there but the boys are focused.
"We are going for a win for so many reasons - we are dedicating the match to Shahdan Sulaiman (who broke his leg against Myanmar), we want to win for the fans and we want the three points to build a winning momentum.
"I believe we are going to get the job done."
"We are going for a win for so many reasons — we are dedicating the match to Shahdan Sulaiman (who broke his leg against Myanmar), we want to win for the fans and we want the three points to build a winning momentum."
— Singapore captain Shahril Ishak