Shahril's sigh of relief

A day after the disappointing 2-2 draw against Kedah in their Malaysia Cup opener at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the LionsXII were far from their jovial, spirited selves.

Most of the squad exhibited solemn, almost tired expressions as they reported for training yesterday evening.

"Two points lost" was the sentiment all around as the Malaysian Super League champions prepared for their second Group D match against Sarawak in the hostile State Stadium in Kuching on Saturday.

The only good news, it seemed, was that injured captain Shahril Ishak could make it back in time for the clash.

Shahril suffered a knee injury against Kedah, following a bruising tackle by an opponent in the first half, and had to be substituted in the 74th minute.

Limping into the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday, Shahril, wearing a protective guard on his right knee, said a visit to the doctor's revealed there was no ligament damage.

According to team physiotherapist Nurhafizah Abu Sujad, the team's top scorer could get some play time against Sarawak.

"The good news is that it's just a knock; a contusion at the (side of his knee)," she told The New Paper.

Boost

"He's 50-50 for the Sarawak match right now, but he should be ready for Perak (next Tuesday).

"With some luck, Shahril could play some minutes in Sarawak, but he will need to respond well to physiotherapy the next two days."

Shahril sat on the sidelines throughout yesterday's 90-minute session.

As the starting 11 from Tuesday's match did recovery work at the corner of the pitch, the 29-year-old received acupuncture treatment from Nurhafizah.

"It's a day-by-day situation for me," Shahril said.

"Of course, I want to play every minute, but if I'm out, no worries - we have Shahfiq Ghani, Syafiq Zainal and Khairul Nizam all ready to step in for me.

"Sarawak is a big game for us now, after we dropped two points at home. I'm excited to see how the young players cope with the hot atmosphere in Kuching."

If Shahril fails to make it in time, Shahfiq, who came off the bench and scored the LionsXII's second goal with a curling free-kick from 25 metres, could be called upon to lead the line next to target man Fazrul Nawaz.

The 21-year-old has been an enjoying a baptism of fire this season with six goals, including a rasping 30-metre free-kick against Perak, which salvaged a point for the LionsXII en route to their league title win.

Despite his solid contribution off the bench, the youngster has struggled to break into coach V Sundramoorthy's settled first 11 this season.

"I always tell myself it's better to be subbed in than to be subbed out," Shahfiq said in jest.

"But, yes, I prefer to make an impact from the start.

"Stepping into Shahril's shoes won't be easy. He does so much for the team - he scores and sets up most of our attacks.

"Sarawak will be a very tough game because they are champions of (the Malaysian Premier League) and are unbeaten this season.

"After the Kedah draw, we have to treat every group match as a cup final."

Sundram, who focused on the reserves during training last night, said he had a secret game plan in case his skipper does not recover in time.

Said the coach: "Shahril is a concern for us. He's a very influential player and so we will wait and see if he recovers before making a decision.

"We still have five games left and every team will fight for a place in the last eight.

"We slipped up in our home game, but I know the boys will respond and try and make up for it in Kuching."

"If I'm out, no worries - we have (below, from left) Shahfiq Ghani, Syafiq Zainal and Khairul Nizam all ready to step in for me." - LionsXII skipper Shahril Ishak


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