Lions have their work cut out in remaining World Cup qualifiers
Core players missing, but coach Yoshida trusts those who are stepping in, says they are not mere stand-ins
Despite missing their main goalscorer, midfield general cum captain and a key centre-back, stand-in Lions skipper Yasir Hanapi wants his team to beat Palestine to keep their World Cup 2022 qualification campaign on track.
The Group D tie at the King Fahd International Stadium will be the national team's first "A" international since November 2019, due to Covid-19's disruptive effect on the international football calendar.
However, three key players who featured in that 2-1 win over Yemen in Bahrain will be absent for the Lions' triple header against Palestine, Uzbekistan (June 8) and hosts Saudi Arabia (June 12) in Riyadh.
Captain Hariss Harun withdrew from the squad due to personal reasons, while centre-back Safuwan Baharudin, who scored the winner in the reverse fixture against Palestine, and striker Ikhsan Fandi are unavailable due to injury.
In a phone interview from Riyadh, Yasir, 31, said: "It's very important. If we want to get something out of this campaign, we have to win this match against Palestine...
"Coach has set a realistic target (of four points) for us, if we get three points from Palestine and one point out of these two good teams (Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan), it will be a bonus."
Singapore - the lowest-ranked Group D team in the Fifa standings - sit third in the five-team pool with seven points from five matches, two adrift of Uzbekistan and four behind group leaders Saudi Arabia.
Yemen are two points behind Singapore while bottom-placed Palestine are one point further adrift.
The second-placed team has a chance of joining the eight group winners in the next round of Asia's World Cup qualifiers, which also comes with a spot at the 2023 Asian Cup in China.
Hariss, 30, Safuwan, 29, and Ikhsan, 22, form a central spine for the Lions and boast a combined 215 caps.
They are also a key source of goals. No player in the current squad has more international goals than Hariss (10) and Safuwan (11).
Meanwhile, Norway-based Ikhsan has emerged as the Lions' main striker, with eight goals in his 18 caps, including three in the Lions' five qualifiers. The trio have scored four of the Lions' seven goals in qualifying.
FOCUS ON WHO'S PRESENT
National coach Tatsuma Yoshida yesterday reiterated several times that the focus should be on the players present in Riyadh, rather than those who are unavailable.
He said: "Of course, it is a big loss for us and for me but we don't need to speak about the players who are not here."
He flagged defenders Madhu Mohana and Baihakki Khaizan, midfielders M. Anumanthan, Zulfahmi Arifin and Shahdan Sulaiman and attackers Ilhan Fandi and Faris Ramli as players who could step in for the missing trio.
Said Yoshida: "They are not replacements. They have their own characteristics and talent. I have expectations of them. I trust them."
Yasir, who was picked by Yoshida to be the stand-in skipper because of his "will to win", added that Anu's physical presence is similar to Hariss.
He also noted that 18-year-old Ilhan "has shown potential that he can do the same job" as his older brother Ikhsan.
Yoshida said Palestine, who are 55 rungs above 159th-ranked Singapore in the Fifa standings, are an aggressive, direct team who will be a threat on the counter.
There has been some upheaval in their coaching ranks with Makram Daboub taking over as interim coach in April.
The Lions of Canaan are missing some overseas-based players such as Ahmed Awad, who plays in the Swedish top tier, and have recalled their most-capped player Abdelatif Bahdari, 37.
They are also missing a trio of key players but could pose a threat via forward Oday Dabbagh, 22, who was the top scorer in the Kuwaiti Premier League this season and scored in Palestine's 2-0 upset win over Uzbekistan in September 2019.