SINGAPORE - The Lions have received a further blow to their World Cup qualifying campaign after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced that national team captain Hariss Harun has withdrawn from the squad.
In a statement released on Monday (May 31) evening, the FAS said the Lions' 30-year-old captain will remain in Singapore for "personal family reasons" and will not join the squad in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Hariss is the third key member of the team to be ruled out after the earlier withdrawals of lead striker Ikhsan Fandi and Safuwan Baharudin, who are both injured.
All three players started in the Lions' last official match as a national team in November 2019, a 2-1 away win over Yemen in a World Cup qualifier.
Singapore drew 1-1 with Afghanistan in a training match in Dubai on Saturday night although that tie did not count as an 'A' international friendly.
In Hariss' absence, M. Anumanthan, who plies his trade in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) with Kedah, is the most likely candidate to fill in at the heart of midfield.
Coach Tatsuma Yoshida described Hariss' withdrawal as a "big loss".
He said: "Of course it is always a big loss for any team when you don't have your captain available. Since my tenure started, Hariss has always served the team well as our leader.
"But sometimes, we need to recognise that football may not always be the most important and the boys and I hope that his situation at home will get better. We have to accept that he will be unavailable and focus on the job that we have to do.
"I will have to alter some plans, but we will still follow our concepts and playing philosophies to always play the ball forward and play for victory. Considering the display against Afghanistan two days ago, I fully trust the players who are here, and it is an opportunity for them to show what they are capable of."
Hariss who signed for Lion City Sailors in May after seven years across the Causeway with MSL giants Johor Darul Takzim said in a statement: "I am of course, very disappointed to not be able to join the team in Riyadh and it is unfortunate, especially since I was looking forward to teaming up with the boys for these crucial matches.
"Nevertheless, I have great confidence and belief in the boys to put up good performances and come back with positive results. There are plenty of leaders in this team and I will be supporting them fervently from home."
The Lions, who arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, will face Group D opponents Palestine (June 3), Uzbekistan (June 7) and the hosts (June 11).
After five games, they are third with seven points behind leaders Saudi Arabia (11 points) and Uzbekistan (nine points). The group winners and the best four runners-up from the eight groups qualify for the Asian Cup and progress to the third round of qualifying for next year's World Cup. But the remaining teams will still have chances to qualify for the Asian Cup via various other permutations.