Photo: Suki Singh/ Sport Singapore
The Lions head into the match against Timor-Leste tomorrow knowing that only a win will keep their hopes of advancing in this tournament alive. A 1-0 win against Indonesia at home and subsequently a loss against Philippines away by the same score line sees them lying third in Group B, behind leaders Thailand and Philippines who have six points each.
Timor- Leste may be bottom of the table now but it would be suicidal to take them lightly. This is the same team that scored twice against the Azkals and almost got a draw at home. Japanese coach Norio Tsukitate was appointed to manage the team earlier this year, and he has organised them well defensively, while allowing the players to express themselves in attack.
On the other hand, the Lions have enough problems of their own with Shahril Ishak forced to missed the rest of the competition to have surgery on his dislocated shoulder. The veteran player dislocated his right shoulder after landing awkwardly following an aerial collision in the 72nd minute of the Lions' match against Philippines.
He will be badly missed, as under tournament rules, the Lions are not allowed to replace any injured outfield players, only goalkeepers.
On the bright side though, Faris Ramli has recovered from a hamstring pull and is back in training. This is a welcome boost especially in light of Shahril’s absence.
Khairul Amri. Photo: Sport Singapore
Another veteran striker, Khairul Amri, will be looking to make a difference in this game as he steps up for Shahril. The Lions desperately need to improve on their goal difference (zero) and Khairul could be the perfect antidote.
He hasn’t been named in the starting eleven so far in this competition but that could change as Fandi may throw him into the mix alongside Ikhsan Fandi for a two-pronged attack against Timor-Leste.
Khairul will be looking to turn back the clock and replicate his form in 2007, when he famously scored the goal against Thailand, which gave Singapore the 2007 AFF Championship crown.
This may seem like a gamble by Fandi Ahmad but if it pays off, no Singapore fan will be complaining.
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Editor's thoughts: I think it's a huge gamble on Fandi's part if he really throws on Khairul Amri right from the start alongside Ikhsan. Don't get me wrong. Khairul is a really experienced striker and his movement and goal-scoring instincts are proven and can be really helpful to the Lions. However, age is not on his side and he may not be able to last the entire match. Instead, I feel that Fandi should stick to the original game plan and have Khairul come on to provide that additional boost if and when needed. We need to win big against Timor-Leste to get a better goal difference but it may backfire if we push too hard and end up losing or drawing the game. I may be too cautious here but I guess it's always better to err on the side of caution since the end game (reaching the semi finals) is at stake here. Anything less than a win tomorrow will seriously affect our chances of progressing.