Return of captain Shahril?

He has been injured for the past month but with the LionsXII needing goals in their Malaysia Cup quarter-final first leg against Malaysian military side ATM on Saturday, Shahril Ishak could start at the Jalan Besar Stadium as V. Sundramoorthy's men go for maximum fire-power.

The return of the inspirational captain and leading scorer, who netted nine times in all competitions this year, will be the boost the hosts need to complete the double, after July's Malaysian Super League (MSL) triumph.

For Shahril, he is gunning for a hat-trick of a ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, MSL and Malaysia Cup wins as captain.

"It is a dream not only for me but also for the players as well to lift the Malaysia Cup," he told The Straits Times.

"We want the trophy. This has been the best time of my career. As long as I'm on the pitch, I want to lead the team and write more history."

But the buoyant mood in the LionsXII's camp could have been so different.

After the team's first three Malaysia Cup games, V. Sundramoorthy's men were anchored firmly at the bottom of Group D following a draw and two defeats.

But three straight wins over Perak, Sarawak and Kedah propelled them into second place and the last eight.

The 29-year-old said: "When we didn't get the results earlier on, the players were down. We thought "that was it".

"But coach Sundram kept motivating us. We stayed strong and now the dream is back on.

"With home advantage this Saturday, we want to score as many goals as possible."

Currently in the form of his life as the LionsXII's leading scorer, the skipper also bagged two major individual honours in the past year as he was named Most Valuable Player of the 2012 AFF Cup and the 2012 AFF Player of the Year.

So the fans' grave concern was understandable when Shahril tore his left gluteus late last month and was staring at a long time on the treatment table.

"The doctor told me that I was out for the season," he recalled.

"But I never gave up. I used the time to rest well. Every day, I trained at home and at the Jalan Besar Stadium gym to strengthen my body."

And two platelet-rich plasma injections accelerated the recovery process. In this therapy, a few tablespoons of a patient's own blood are spun, separating out the platelets that promotes healing.

Although still not fully match fit, according to Sundram, Shahril says that the soreness in his buttock is gone and he can run without feeling any pain.

With 80 per cent of the tickets for Saturday's showdown against ATM snapped up, Jalan Besar is set to rock with a capacity 7,500 fans willing the team on.

Shahril hopes he can repay the die-hards for their support.

He said: "We want to win the Malaysia Cup for the fans. Almost every home game was sold out and a loyal group of makcik (older Malay women) has travelled with us for the away games.

"It's a wonderful feeling for the players, to feel their passion and their support."

The LionsXII lost to ATM in last year's semi-finals on penalties but beat them home and away in the MSL this season.

meng@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.