Key Lions out; Yoshida urges the rest to stake claim for 1st XI spot
With core players out, Lions coach wants to see who can take up key roles in match against Afghanistan
In the absence of his key players, Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida has challenged the rest of his charges to stake their claim for a first-team spot when they face Afghanistan in a training match in Dubai tomorrow.
Captain Hariss Harun, defender Safuwan Baharudin and striker Ikhsan Fandi - who form the bulk of the Lions' spine - are unavailable for the match at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence training centre - their first game since November 2019.
But Yoshida plans to give the rest of his squad a run ahead of next fortnight's World Cup qualifiers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The Japanese tactician told The New Paper in a Zoom interview: "Almost all will play and I want to test out different combinations and chemistry.
"Also, as some of them did not get many playing opportunities in their clubs, they can use this game to get more (playing) time and get back the match-playing feeling."
Unlimited substitutions will be allowed for this match, which will let Yoshida assess all his options ahead of the games against Group D rivals Palestine (June 3), Uzbekistan (June 7) and Saudi Arabia (June 11).
The Lions are third in the group, four points behind leaders Saudi. Yoshida is targeting four points from these three games, which means the 159th-ranked Lions will likely have to draw with either Saudi (65th) or Uzbekistan (86th) and beat world No. 104 Palestine.
"Afghanistan are very similar to Palestine in terms of body size and their style of play, so it'll be a good sparring match for us," added Yoshida. "In this game, I want to find and see who can be our target-man and leader."
Hariss, 30, and veteran Baihakki Khaizan, 37, will miss this match due to personal reasons, but they will link up with the squad next week.
Defensive stalwart Safuwan, 29, was left out as a precaution after suffering a concussion.
Striker Ikhsan, who scored eight goals in 18 appearances for the Lions, was withdrawn from the squad yesterday as he is nursing a medial collateral ligament injury picked up during pre-season with Norwegian second-tier club FK Jerv.
This means fans will have to wait a little longer for the first time that three Fandi brothers play together for Singapore.
Eldest brother Irfan, 23, noted that his 22-year-old sibling's absence will be felt.
"It's a huge blow that he won't be joining us as he's one of our main players but I'm sure that others will step up,"said the BG Pathum United defender.
Their third brother Ilhan, 18, had received a national call-up for the first time.
Spirits are high in the Lions' camp, said forward Gabriel Quak, as it's the first time many of them have met the overseas-based players for a while.
"Many of our boys play overseas, so it is like a reunion since we haven't seen them for so long... we're catching up with each other and looking forward to playing hard and enjoying this tour," he said.
The Lion City Sailors forward, 30, added that everyone is keen to prove themselves against the strong Afghans, who had beaten them 2-1 in their last meeting in a 2017 friendly.
Among those who can't wait for tomorrow's match is Idraki Adnan, one of three uncapped players alongside Young Lions forward Ilhan and Sailors midfielder Saifullah Akbar.
The speedy Hougang United attacker, 22, received his maiden call-up after impressing Yoshida with four goals and two assists in 11 SPL games this year.
"He has talent and speed with those long legs. He is still young and doesn't have much experience, so this is his period to learn from the senior players," said Yoshida.
Grateful for the call-up, Idraki said he just wants to grab any chance that comes his way."It was hard to adjust to the intensity but a great experience for me to catch up to the rest," he said. "I will take any opportunity to play and go the extra mile for the team."