Stange's Iqbal recall a puzzle

Stange's Iqbal recall a puzzle
Lions coach Bernd Stange has called up striker Iqbal Hussain (centre) for the World Cup qualifier against Japan, in a move that came just days after he was dropped by Aide Iskander from the SEA Games squad.

Not good enough for Singapore's SEA Games football outfit, but worthy of a place with the seniors who are readying themselves to meet heavyweights Japan in the World Cup qualifiers?

In a perplexing move yesterday, striker Iqbal Hussain was recalled to the national team - just days after being controversially left out of the Young Lions' final squad of 20.

The 22-year-old cut a chirpy figure as he joined the likes of national stalwarts Baihakki Khaizan and Shahril Ishak for training at the Geylang Field yesterday.

It was a far cry from last Thursday, when the youngster lashed out on social media after he was one of nine players dropped by Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar.

The Straits Times understands that concerns over Iqbal's discipline and attitude had led to his exclusion. Eyebrows were also raised as to why Iqbal was the only one of the nine SEA Games players dropped to be called up.

Yesterday, however, Singapore coach Bernd Stange said he had spoken to Aide and concluded it was "very logical" to add Iqbal to his 22-man national squad.

"Aide has his own reasons for dropping Iqbal. I believe that he has the potential and talent to be a national player in the future," said the German.

When contacted, Aide declined comment. It is believed he raised his reservations about Iqbal in his discussion with Stange.

The national team are coming off their first win of the year, a 2-1 victory over Bangladesh in Dhaka on Saturday.

The Lions will play one more friendly, at home against Brunei, on Saturday before they begin their World Cup qualifying campaign with two away matches - against Cambodia in Phnom Penh on June 11, and against Japan in Saitama on June 16.

Stange said Iqbal, a mainstay of the Courts Young Lions in the S-League for the past two years, has a "chance to play" in those games if he does well in training.

He added: "I saw Iqbal score a lot of goals for Aide's team (two goals in seven S-League games).

"I believe he can do the same for us and progress as a footballer."

Iqbal, whose sole international cap came as a substitute against Papua New Guinea last September, is a man on a mission.

"I deserved to be in the SEA Games team but I have to respect coach Aide's decision, whatever it may be," he said.

"I am thankful that coach Bernd has given me this opportunity. It's a big chance to prove what I'm truly capable of."

The silky but sometimes erratic attacker made four appearances at the 2013 SEA Games, a key impact substitute for Singapore as they clinched bronze in Myanmar.

The absence of the 1.86m striker at the ongoing edition was all the more glaring after the Young Lions squandered several gilt-edged chances in their 1-0 opening win over the Philippines on Monday.

In a Facebook tirade after being dropped, Iqbal said the reasons given to him were "unacceptable and didn't make sense". He also lamented his decision to defer his national service thrice to be able to take part in the biennial Games.

He did not feature in the 5-1 drubbing of the Laos U-23s in the friendly last week because of a groin injury, and played only 15 minutes in the final warm-up match before the SEA Games, a 2-0 win over Timor Leste.

Sources said Iqbal had told officials he was fit to play before the Timor match, only to claim he was injured when quizzed later on his sub-par display.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

 


This article was first published on June 03, 2015.
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