Striker wanted, as Lions prepare for Japan
Stange sanguine as three men vie to fill Amri's boots for crucial clash
World Cup/Asian Cup Group E
SINGAPORE v JAPAN
(Thursday, 7.15pm, National Stadium)
The search is on for a striker to lead Singapore's attack.
The New Paper reported on Friday that Khairul Amri will miss the Lions' crucial World Cup/Asian Cup Group E double header against Japan on Thursday and Syria on Nov 17, after suffering a hamstring strain.
Amri picked up the injury just nine minutes into the LionsXII's 2-1 win over Terengganu in the Malaysia Cup last Wednesday, and is expected to be out for about a month.
He has been Bernd Stange's first choice centre forward since the German took over the reins of the national team in May 2013, and has scored half of his 30 international goals in the last 30 months.
Amri worked tirelessly for 90 minutes as a lone striker when the Lions held Japan to a stunning 0-0 draw in Saitama in the reverse fixture in June.
But Stange insists he is not fretting over the loss of his hotshot forward against a star-studded Japanese side that will be out to put the Lions in their place at the National Stadium on Thursday.
"I am so relaxed," he said, after a training session at the Geylang Field yesterday.
"Over the years, I have learnt that players may become unavailable in crucial moments.
"We have to prepare a national team who are able to cover such unexpected things.
"Before the Afghanistan match (last month) it was Safuwan Baharudin and Hariss Harun (who were suspended), now its Amri, maybe next will be our goalkeeper... It's part of my job (to manage).
"It's not frustrating.
"Next player steps in and we'll see how we can manage."
Stange is happy with the choices at his disposal.
Among them are Fazrul Nawaz, the S.League's second highest scorer this season with 18 goals, and Sahil Suhaimi, a talented 23-year-old who has only shown flashes of his ability this season for the LionsXII.
Shahril Ishak, the 31-year-old national skipper who has been used sparingly since last year's failed Suzuki Cup defence, and debutant Taufik Suparno, 20, are other choices, although the rookie will almost certainly start on the bench.
"We have options, and I have no headache in this position," Stange insisted.
While the former Iraq coach claims he has not made a decision on who will take Amri's place in the Lions' starting 11, Warriors FC man Fazrul, who scored in the 2-1 win over Cambodia last month, appears to be the frontrunner.
"First of all, I'm disappointed Amri got injured. He really took care of himself after the first injury so it's sad to see him miss out again," said the 30-year-old, who played on the right side of midfield in Saitama.
"But his injury means other players have to step up.
"Of course, it would be great to play in my favoured position (as centre-forward), and I'm hoping for it.
"But the team comes first, and I'll give my best in any position the coach puts me in."
Sahil, who has experience playing against top-level centre backs - he played for the Singapore Selection side that were handed a 6-0 drubbing by a France Under-21 team in 2014 - will also relish the opportunity if picked against Japan.
"Of course, every player wants to play against the giants," said the diminutive forward, who stands at just 1.65m.
"All we can do from now until matchday is just work hard, and be prepared."
Shahril, who is the Singapore's record holder for international caps with 126, added: "Amri's injury is a big loss for us as he has been scoring at club and international level.
"But we have able deputies like Fazrul, Sahil and myself who can come in.
"If I'm called upon, I will definitely give my all to the team.
"This is an important week for the team and we will do our best to get a result in both matches against Japan and Syria."
The three candidates
A consistent goalscorer at S.League level, the 30-year-old has not been as prolific on the international stage, scoring just nine goals in 79 caps.
Most of those appearances have been as a wide midfielder, however, and Fazrul (pictured above) has been yearning for the opportunity to play in his favoured centre forward role for the Lions.
After all, that's from where he has banged in 18 goals for Warriors FC in the S.League this season.
Considering his experience and exceptional work-rate, he seems the most likely bet to start upfront in Amri's absence.
The 23-year-old has been touted in some quarters as Amri's successor the national team, but has not blossomed as well as expected since moving to the LionsXII at the start of the year.
He (pictured above) was joint top-scorer at the Myanmar SEA Games in Dec 2013 with four goals, and then went on to score 10 goals for the Courts Young Lions in 2014 - which made him the highest-scoring local player in the competition that season.
Since joining the LionsXII though, he has struggled to win a place in the starting 11, and has spent most of the season waiting for his chance off the bench, with coach Fandi Ahmad demanding he learns to work harder without the ball.
He scored only two goals at club level this season, one in the MSL and another in the Malaysia Cup.
He is still respected as the captain of the national team, but Shahril is no longer an automatic starter for Bernd Stange.
In terms of intelligence on the ball, there are few who can match the record holder (pictured above) for international caps, who turns 32 in January.
But there are question marks over whether he can still cut it at the international level - he was substituted at half-time in the 1-0 win over Afghanistan last month.
He revelled in a centre forward role for V Sundramoorthy's MSL-winning team of 2013, though, scoring 10 league goals.