Veteran Singapore defender Baihakki Khaizan has been dropped from the national football squad for the upcoming Asian Cup qualifiers.
The 33-year-old was told by national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy that he would not be part of the team that will attempt to win a berth at the 2019 Asian Cup. Singapore will play their opener against Bahrain on March 28.
Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei complete Group E. The top two will qualify for the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Sundram said yesterday in a statement: "Baihakki is a long-time servant of the national team. We appreciate his commitment to the national team, and respect what he has achieved with the Lions.
"However, he is not part of my plans for the Asian Cup qualifiers, and I thought it was important to meet him and tell him this myself.
"I thank Baihakki for what he's given to the team."
HE'LL BE BACK
I know what Bai is like as a person, he is strong, he will come back stronger and I believe we won't see the end of Bai.
SHAHRIL ISHAK , Lions captain, on Warriors team-mate Baihakki Khaizan's international future.
With 129 caps, Baihakki is one of the most experienced players in the national team. He won the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship three times, in 2004, 2007 and 2012. In 2013, while playing under Sundram, he helped the now-defunct LionsXII win the Malaysian Super League title.
Last November, however, at the latest edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup in the Philippines, he made just one appearance as a substitute during the ill-fated campaign. Singapore crashed out in the group stage with one draw and two defeats.
When contacted, he firmly declined to comment. The centre back, known for his tackling and aerial prowess, will be playing for S-League side Warriors FC this season.
In the build-up to the match against Bahrain, the S-League clubs are requested to allow players who are called up for the national team to attend a Lions training session every Monday.
National captain and Baihakki's Warriors team-mate, Shahril Ishak, admitted that while he was surprised to find out that Baihakki has been dropped, he believes that he will not be out of international football for long.
Shahril, who has played 132 times for the Republic, said: "It's a pity. He's been my team-mate for so many years and I feel sad. He's the most experienced player in the backline and with him around, he encourages our younger players.
"But our season in the S-League has not started yet. So if he does well in the league, perhaps he could be called up again. For example, Daniel Bennett was out for a few years and now he's back.
"I know what Bai is like as a person, he is strong, he will come back stronger and I believe we won't see the end of Bai."