More than just points at stake for JDT II's Shahril Ishak against LionsXII

Shahril Ishak (No.17 in red) keeps Cambodia's Nen Sothearoth at bay in Singapore's 2-1 win in a World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium on Tuesday. He knows that a good performance for JDT II against the LionsXII tonight will boost his chances of
Shahril Ishak (No.17 in red) keeps Cambodia's Nen Sothearoth at bay in Singapore's 2-1 win in a World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium on Tuesday. He knows that a good performance for JDT II against the LionsXII tonight will boost his chances of starting for the national team.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Striker holds key to JDT II's chances, as he eyes starting spot in Japan, Syria games

Johor Darul Takzim II striker Shahril Ishak knows there is more than just three points at stake when he steps onto the Jalan Besar Stadium's football pitch to face the LionsXII, his former team, tonight.

Firing in the goals to secure victory will give his side a realistic shot of progressing to the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals.

JDT II are third in Group A with four points, three behind leaders Kedah and the LionsXII, albeit with a game in hand.

But by scoring the goals to knock his former team out, the Singapore captain can improve his chances of nailing down a starting berth in the national squad.

After all, Singapore's chief striker, Khairul Amri, faces a race to be fit for next month's crucial World Cup qualifiers against Japan and Syria on Nov 12 and 17 respectively at the National Stadium.

Yesterday, the affable Shahril told The Straits Times that while he knows there is much at stake today, he is taking it all in his stride - with his trademark grin to boot.

He said: "Yes, the starting position in the national team is still open - everyone has a chance.

"But I just want to enjoy myself on the field.

"I have nothing to prove, the coaches know what I have to offer. My last goal was against Kedah, and I hope to score again."

In Singapore's recent World Cup qualifiers, Shahril was restricted to a limited role with the Lions.

He played in the first half of the 1-0 win over Afghanistan last Thursday before appearing as a second-half substitute in Tuesday's 2-1 victory over Cambodia.

While JDT II ply their trade in the second tier of Malaysian football, the Malaysian Premier League, Shahril feels it has not hurt his form or international prospects as he believes his team can match their top-flight Malaysia Super League (MSL) opponents.

JDT II have not lost an away match in the Malaysia Cup and their only defeat came in a 2-1 reversal against the LionsXII - courtesy of a Safuwan Baharudin injury-time winner.

They also boast two of Singapore's most capped footballers - Shahril (126) and commanding centre-back Baihakki Khaizan (120).

"Yes, we play in the second division but we know that we can still compete with the MSL teams," Shahril noted.

"Amri is very crucial for the LionsXII and his absence makes us feel we have a better chance."

While they are missing nine-goal Amri, the LionsXII will not be easy to pick off.

For one thing, Fandi Ahmad's side are unbeaten at home this season.

And, even without Amri, they possess many goal threats, including winger Faris Ramli, striker Sahil Suhaimi and defender-turned-midfielder Safuwan.

But Shahril said: "The LionsXII's unbeaten home record gives us extra motivation - we want to be the first to win there.

"The players are positive, especially after our recent games.

"We are the underdogs and are going in with nothing to lose."

LIONSXII V JOHOR DT II
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'LYNCHPIN SHAHRIL UNFAZED'. Print Edition | Subscribe