SINGAPORE - The Lions will be without one of their main weapons when they host Chinese Taipei on Saturday (June 10) in the Asian Cup qualifiers at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Forward Khairul Amri, the Singapore team's leading scorer with 32 goals in 115 international games, has been ruled out as the 32-year-old is still recovering from an appendix operation on Wednesday.
The Tampines Rovers forward was still rated as "doubtful" by national coach V. Sundram Moorthy during the pre-match press conference between the two teams on Friday afternoon. But hours later, the tactician made up his mind as he trimmed his squad of 27 to 23, omitting Amri, reserve goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari and uncapped players Ho Wai Loon and Muhaimin Suhaimi.
The Lions, ranked 157th in the world by Fifa while the visitors are ranked three rungs lower. A win could potentially put Singapore top of Group E and in strong contention for a top-two finish.
That would enable them to qualify for the 2019 24-team Finals in the United Arab Emirates - a feat the Lions had never achieved in the previous 16-team format except in 1984, when they qualified automatically as hosts.
Sundram said yesterday at the pre-match press conference at the Amara Hotel: "Chinese Taipei is not going to be an easy game. We have been watching them, and they are a good team, very organised. We must be careful, if we open up too much, we will get punished.
"But we are at our home ground and with the support of the players and the players turning up, we have every chance of winning."
With Amri out, an option the tactician is considering is to push midfielder Safuwan Baharudin higher up into scoring positions. The 25-year-old, who has netted six times in 68 internationals, is known for his aerial power and shooting from distance.
While the Lions ponder their attacking options, Chinese Taipei's caretaker coach Kazuo Kuroda is plotting an upset.
He spoke in Japanese through a translator: "Our ability is not good and Singapore is the bigger team.
"But what is most important is we want to take the lead."
TThe two teams had played each other five times previously, with the Lions winning twice and drawing twice. In the last meeting in a 2011 friendly at Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore won 3-2.
The other two teams in Group E are Tajikistan and Bahrain. Singapore started their campaign with a 0-0 draw against the 133rd-ranked Bahrainis in March while world No. 137 Tajikistan won 3-1 in Taipei.