The new Malaysian Super League (MSL) season is only two weeks away, and Fandi Ahmad already has a selection crisis on his hands.
Friday morning, the 51-year-old LionsXII coach left with just 18 players for an eight-day training camp of Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
With seven players from his 24-man squad unavailable, Fandi had to draft 17-year-old shot-stopper Zharfan Rohaizad, who featured in the Canon Lion City Cup last year, into the squad as cover.
Already unable to select a number of players because of injuries or National Service (NS) commitments, he was dealt a fresh blow when it emerged that forward Shahfiq Ghani would miss the start of the season.
The 21-year-old, who scored five MSL goals last term, fractured part of his spine during the SEA Games semi-final against Thailand in Myanmar on Dec 19.
Remarkably, he didn't even know about it.
Shahfiq told The New Paper on Friday: "During a challenge with their defensive midfielder (Tanaboon Kesarat), I fell and he sat on me.
"I heard a crack, but didn't think much of it... I thought it was just another knock."
The left-footed player visited the Team Singapore doctor based in Naypyidaw the day after the match and underwent an X-ray, which revealed nothing.
Although he had expected the pain to be gone after "four or five days", Shahfiq still felt bothered when he returned to training at the Jalan Besar Stadium last week.
LionsXII physio Nurhafizah Abu Sujad helped him arrange a magnetic resonance imaging scan, and that's when the extent of his injury was revealed.
Said Fizah: "He has a T12 compression fracture of the vertebral body and, taking into account the two weeks since the onset of the injury, he will still be out for another three or four weeks."
This means Shahfiq will miss the LionsXII's first MSL game, against Pahang on Jan 17.
He is the latest name on a lengthy LionsXII injury list but will still link up with the team in Indonesia on Monday, together with defender Safuwan Baharudin and forward Khairul Nizam, who are on the mend from knee injuries.
Apart from those who are injured, Fandi also had to leave two players - winger Faris Ramli and Madhu Mohana - behind because of their NS commitments.
Even among those in the travelling party, there are the walking wounded.
Defenders Shakir Hamzah and Emmeric Ong will not be risked for the team's three friendlies if there is a chance they could aggravate their injuries.
The team will first play Persis Solo this afternoon and then PPSM Magelang on Tuesday, before rounding off the trip with a match against PSS Sleman next Friday.
The bad news doesn't end there for Fandi.
TNP understands that captain Isa Halim and back-up goalkeeper Abdul Qadir will fly back to Singapore after today's match, because of exams and NS, respectively.
Fandi said: "Of course I'm concerned about our depleted squad.
"I just hope we don't pick up any more injuries during the course of the training camp."
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