Malaysia Cup: LionsXII down but not out

SINGAPORE - They are bruised, battered and perhaps even close to a burnout, but when the LionsXII came together again last evening, pain did not matter.

Domestic football returns after a two-week break for international fixtures, which has seen 13 LionsXII players picking up knocks while donning national colours.

V Sundramooorthy's charges have vowed to soldier on, in what is a must-win Malaysia Cup Group D fixture against Sarawak at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.

They will have one big boost - the return of inspirational skipper Shahril Ishak.

It was feared that a gluteus injury may well have ended the season of the 29-year-old forward, but, after coming through a one-hour training session at the Geylang field yesterday with 12 LionsXII players, Shahril looks set to play some part on Wednesday.

"Scans have shown that my muscles are healing well, and I took full part in training. I'm hopeful that I will be able to play," said Shahril who revealed that doctors used platelet-rich plasma - it stimulates healing of soft tissue and bone - to treat him.

"We've got several players who are carrying knocks, but we have to put aside any thought of pain, injury or worry about who will or will not play.

"There's nothing to say about this game against Sarawak - except that we have to go out there and win it," he added.

The reigning Malaysian Super League champions are third in Group D on four points, three points behind joint-leaders Perak and Sarawak.

After the clash with Sarawak, they travel to take on Kedah on Saturday for their final group match.

With the top two advancing to the last eight, the Singapore outfit have it all to do.

The LionsXII treatment room is populated by the likes of first team regulars Hariss Harun, Safuwan Baharudin, Izwan Mahbud and Isa Halim, while the likes of Shahfiq Ghani, Aqhari Abdullah, Khairul Nizam and Syafiq Zainal also carrying various knocks.

But goalkeeper coach Lee Bee Seng, who took charge of yesterday's training session - in the absence of Sundram and assistant coach K Balagumaran, who are away with the national under-23 team at the Merdeka Tournament - remained optimistic.

Said Lee: "Some players are still complaining of fatigue and tightness in their muscles, but this is to be expected after playing in high-tempo international games, and I think they'll be fine by Wednesday."

One man who is waiting for the green light from doctors is midfield hardman Isa.

He pulled up with a hamstring injury in the national team's 1-0 loss to Hong Kong on Tuesday, and while he is determined to drive his team back into contention, he may not make it for the match.

"We are all motivated to play despite the injuries, and mentally I want to get out onto the pitch, but I may not be able to give 100 per cent, and I must be fair to my teammates," he said.

"But knowing that Shahril is cleared to play is a much needed boost for us."

The LionsXII's No. 17 has an additional reason to give his all against Sarawak.

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