Football: Young Lions' Asiad hopes hamstrung

Football: Young Lions' Asiad hopes hamstrung
Singapore's Under-23 football players (from left) Madhu Mohana and Shakir Hamzah at the Sewe Training Centre in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.

The Young Lions' Asian Games hopes have been dealt a double blow as first-choice fullbacks Shakir Hamzah, 21, and Madhu Mohana, 23, are ruled out after tearing their hamstrings in the Malaysia Cup.

Left back Shakir (above, right) suffered a Grade 2 tear in his left hamstring during the 2-2 home draw against Johor Darul Ta'zim II on Aug 26, which forced his exit in the 67th minute.

Right back Madhu (left) had a similar injury in his right hamstring in Tuesday's 3-1 defeat away at Felda United while chasing Zah Rahan Krangar and was replaced in the 26th minute.

Both players will be out for four to eight weeks, meaning they could miss the Singapore Under-23s' Group C matches against Tajikistan (Sept 14), Oman (Sept 17) and Palestine (Sept 21) in Incheon, South Korea.

National coach Bernd Stange confirmed Madhu's omission from the team, but said that he was holding on to the slight hope that Shakir could recover in time.

Tournament rules indicate that squad changes can be made up to 24 hours before the opening fixture.

The German coach revealed that the squad have enough defensive cover, and will select LionsXII striker Khairul Nizam, 23, to replace Madhu.

Said Stange: "There are players in the team who are very able to cover at fullback.

"We have (Young Lions midfielder) Amirul Adli who is only 18, but was very good against Home United in the S.League (last week).

"We also have Al-Qaasimy (Rahman). Against Juventus, he showed he was not afraid to kick Patrice Evra out of the game."

While Shakir was part of the team that went to the Guangzhou Asiad four years ago when they held 2006 champions Qatar to a goalless draw before losing to Kuwait and India, Madhu was looking forward to his first Asian Games outing.

The year 2010, and especially that September, had been a terrible low for Madhu as he was part of the infamous Young Lions-Beijing Guoan "footbrawl".

Then a promising 19-year-old, he was among six Singaporean players, including Nizam, Fairoz Hassan, Gabriel Quak, Irwan Shah and Safuwan Baharudin, who copped fines and suspensions or, in Madhu's case, both, as he was fined $1,000 and banned from all football-related activities for four months.

As such, he missed the Asian Games that took place in November that year. However, since then Madhu has rebuilt his football career. He has caught the eye as a reliable, no-nonsense right back with good aerial ability and a useful long throw during the LionsXII's Malaysian Super League-winning season last year.

He told The New Paper: "I'm devastated to miss out on the Asian Games again. I was really looking forward to helping the team try and get a good result against our opponents.

"Now I can only hope to recover fully as soon as possible to fight for a place in the Suzuki Cup squad."

Stange also confirmed that the three over-aged players in his squad - Warriors goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, LionsXII's Baihakki Khaizan and Johor Darul Ta'zim's Hariss Harun - have been cleared by their respective clubs for the Asian Games.

"I have spoken with (Warriors coach) Alex Weaver and we have shifted their league fixtures. All three players are cleared to play."

This will be Singapore's seventh outing in the Asian Games football tournament since their debut in Manila 1954.

Their best finish was fourth in Bangkok 1966, while their last win came against Pakistan (6-1) in Beijing in 1990.

davidlee@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Sept 4 in The New Paper.

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