SINGAPORE - There were big plans for Shahril Ishak at this Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, but the veteran forward is now ruled out for the rest of the tournament following surgery to a dislocated shoulder.
Interim national coach Fandi Ahmad told The Straits Times on Friday (Nov 16): "Shahril had gone for an operation for a dislocated shoulder and he will be out of the competition. But he will be with us."
Under tournament rules, the Lions are not allowed to replace any injured outfield players, only goalkeepers.
Shahril, 34, popped his right shoulder after landing awkwardly following an aerial collision in the 72nd minute of the Lions' 1-0 Group B loss to the Philippines in Bacolod on Tuesday.
The Home United player had been on the pitch at the Panaad Stadium for only six minutes, replacing winger Faris Ramli, who suffered a hamstring strain.
Fandi had counted on Shahril, who has a record 138 caps and 14 goals for Singapore, to be the Lions' "game changer" against the Azkals.
In the event that the game was deadlocked, the 56-year-old tactician had planned to unleash the veteran to try and conjure up a vital goal or assist.
Fandi said: "Shahril's a key player and he could have been our game changer.
"He was supposed to do that (against the Philippines). At this age, he still can contribute, give something to the team and add another dimension to our play."
With one win (1-0 over Indonesia) and a loss, Singapore are fourth in the five-team Group B on goal difference behind Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Thailand and the Philippines have played one game fewer.
The Lions' next game is on Wednesday (Nov 21) against Timor-Leste at the National Stadium and they need to rack up the goals against the Timorese to boost their goal difference (zero) and get their AFF Cup campaign back on track.
Fandi conducted a closed-door training session at the National Stadium on Friday and his priority was to look at ways to prise the Timor-Leste defence open.
He said: "We have to see what we have on the bench. These few days will be crucial for us. We will look at different players in different positions.
"This game is important for us. We need a lot of crosses, we need a lot of attacking options. While we can say we have quite a good defence, we need to focus a bit more on our attacking part."
Meanwhile, Myanmar and Vietnam are joint-top of Group A after beating Laos 3-1 and Malaysia 2-0 respectively on Friday.
Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia are all on six points but Malaysia have a poorer goal difference and have played one game more.