LionsXII team-mates back defender Shakir

LionsXII players to submit petition on his behalf at DC's hearing

THEY had kept mum since news that their team-mate was in detention broke last Friday.

But last night, the LionsXII players finally broke a self-imposed silence to throw their weight behind defender Shakir Hamzah, who is in danger of missing the remainder of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) campaign.

"We are behind him and will support him all the way," Singapore international midfielder Isa Halim told The Straits Times.

Today marks the end of Shakir's four-day stint in detention for going absent without leave from his National Service duties on May 17 to play in an MSL match in Kuantan that same evening.

He has since been suspended by the Football Association of Singapore from all related activity, pending a disciplinary hearing.

A date has not been set but the LionsXII players plan to submit a petition on their team-mate's behalf by the time the committee convenes.

"We want to give him some moral support," Isa said.

"He made a mistake and he knows it."

Shahril Ishak, meanwhile, added that while Shakir has had problems in the past, he has shown noticeable improvement of late.

"He has had a very difficult year, with family issues affecting his football and his NS," the LionsXII captain pointed out.

"But he has been counselled by coach (V. Sundramoorthy) and some of the senior players.

"In the last few months his attitude has changed for the better. We were all happy to see that he was putting in the effort to change."

Shakir's performances on the pitch have been indicative of this: He has been one of the most impressive players in the LionsXII's rise to the top of the MSL standings with a four-point lead and four matches to go.

His absence will undoubtedly be felt when V. Sundramoorthy's side host second-placed Johor Darul Takzim on Saturday.

With Baihakki Khaizan and Hafiz Abu Sujad both suspended, Shakir was set to fill in alongside Safuwan Baharudin in the heart of defence against the team coached by local legend Fandi Ahmad.

That role will now likely be handed to either Hariss Harun or youngster Faris Azienuddin.

"We'll miss Shakir's quality at defending and set pieces," Isa said. "But we will dedicate this game to him; if we win, it will be for him."

Indeed, the LionsXII are hoping to draw strength from their team-mate's tribulation.

"An incident like this only makes the team stronger," skipper Shahril stressed.

"Hopefully, we can move on from this and secure the title."