Team Singapore

Anu gets surprise Lions call-up, Shahdan left out

He will be without the country's two best players in central midfielders Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin.

But national football coach Bernd Stange is confident he has able replacements for the "must-win" World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier against Afghanistan at the National Stadium on Thursday, although they won't be the experienced Shahdan Sulaiman or Firdaus Kasman.

Shahdan, who owns 43 caps, last played for Singapore as a substitute in the 4-0 defeat by Qatar in August.

Firdaus made substitute appearances for the Lions in their first two qualifiers against Cambodia and Japan earlier this year.

Already missing two key midfielders, the omission of Shahdan and Firdaus was a surprise.

But, speaking to The New Paper at yesterday's training session at the Geylang Field, Stange said: "Shahdan broke his leg playing for Singapore at last year's Suzuki Cup and is making his way back.

"We won't let him down. We want him to make a full recovery and I'm sure he will come back.

"Firdaus has been out for almost a month and it is difficult to choose players who are out of practice."

Stange has drafted in Courts Young Lions' Anumanthan Mohan Kumar, who has been enjoying a good run of form in the S.League.

The combative central midfielder has been providing a solid screen for the Young Lions defence, while also driving forward at every opportunity, exemplified by a left-footed arrow into the top corner for the winner against Tampines Rovers last month.

His ability to operate as a ball-playing defender also offers more options.

With Izzdin Shafiq the only certainty in central midfield, Anumanthan, capped six times, stands a realistic chance of starting.

Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Yasir Hanapi and Shahril Ishak are other options.

Anumanthan (above), who last played for Singapore in a 0-0 draw against Hong Kong last year, said: "I feel like I know better now how to survive out there on the pitch.

"When I first played for Singapore as a 19-year-old against Oman, I thought I was still young. But now I realise it is not a matter of age. What matters is whether you can play or not, and now I just want to show in every match that I'm a worthy competitor."

Despite not being able to field his strongest 11, Stange was still confident he can mastermind the victories required to keep the Lions on track for second place, which could well mean qualification for the Asian Cup for the first time.

The German said: "If we want to succeed, we have to be able to cover for problems such as injuries, suspensions and unexpected circumstances. We will be judged on that. If we cannot cover such problems with our team, we don't deserve to qualify.

"We are looking for special characters. They may not always be the best players, but they can be the best fit in a team.

"Afghanistan are physically stronger than our team but I think we have more intelligence and we are more organised. 

"That's why I'm confident if we bring everything, they don't have a chance." - DAVID LEE

THE LIONS:

  • Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny, Izwan Mahbud, Zaiful Nizam
  • Defenders: Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Baihakki Khaizan, Madhu Mohana, Amirul Adli, Shaiful Esah, Shakir Hamzah
  • Midfielders: Faris Ramli, Yasir Hanapi, Hariss Harun, Safuwan Baharudin, Zulfahmi Arifin, Izzdin Shafiq, Anumanthan Mohan Kumar, Christopher van Huizen, Hafiz Abu Sujad
  • Forwards: Shahril Ishak, Khairul Amri, Fazrul Nawaz, Khairul Nizam, Sahil Suhaimi.
M AnumanthanSingapore LionsBernd Stange