Thursday, July 21, 2011

Buildup to Causeway Derby: Shahril's free role (ST 21 Jul)

S'pore captain given licence to roam and harass Malaysia

'(It) has toughened me up because I get whacked and tackled many times during a game. I'm a smarter player now, knowing when to release the ball and how to deal with tight defences.'
SHAHRIL ISHAK on the benefits from his Indonesian stint

Midfielder Shahril Ishak (right), in action against Chinese Taipei on Monday, revelling in his new free role. -- ST PHOTO: NURIA LING

BARELY five months ago, Shahril Ishak feared that he had played his last game for Singapore.

His future with the Lions appeared to be in limbo after he joined the Medan Chiefs in the breakaway Indonesian Premier League (LPI), which was then not recognised by world football's governing body Fifa.

Fortunately, the 27-year-old playmaker received clearance from Fifa earlier this week, and is back in the national fold and raring to go for the crunch 2014 World Cup two-legged qualifier against Malaysia.

Said the former Home United player: 'I'm so relieved. I had given up all hope at one point.

'It was tough just training with the guys but not getting a chance to play out there with them.'

His return is a welcome one for Singapore as they prepare to face Asean champions Malaysia in the first leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.

For he not only wears the captain's armband, but is also the Lions' midfield linchpin, embracing a new free role which coach Raddy Avramovic has entrusted to him.

Shahril said: 'I used to play left wing in the past, which was a bit tough as I didn't get the ball much.

'Now, I have the freedom to go wherever I want and create trouble for the opposition.'

He did just that in a 3-2 friendly win over Chinese Taipei on Monday, linking up well with fellow midfielders Shahdan Sulaiman and Shi Jiayi to create openings for themselves and front-man Aleksandar Duric.

He has revelled in a similar position for Medan, supplying more than half of league top scorer Laakkad Abdelhadi's 13 goals in 18 games.

Armed with a bag of tricks and a keen eye for threading through balls, Shahril has also benefited from Singapore's new, short-passing game in a 4-2-3-1 set-up.

But this playing style, he says, could come undone if the Tigers adopt an offside trap by pushing up their backline.

'We have to find a way around that, by timing our runs well to spring the trap,' he added. 'It's important to keep things simple - pass to the player in space and then find an opening to receive the ball back.'

Shahril believes his overseas playing experience puts him in good stead to thrive as the main creative spark.

'Playing in Indonesia has toughened me up because I get whacked and tackled many times during a game,' said Shahril, who also played for Persib Bandung in the Indonesia Super League last year.

'I'm a smarter player now, knowing when to release the ball and how to deal with tight defences.'

Skills aside, he also has a wealth of experience. With 83 international appearances since his debut against the Maldives in 2003, he is the second most-capped player in the squad, behind only Daniel Bennett (97).

Along with Shahdan and Shi, Shahril feels Singapore's hopes of victory against their Causeway neighbours will rest on their shoulders.

He said: 'Our main job is to supply and support Duric up front. If we do that well, we've got a great chance of beating Malaysia.'

By Sanjay Nair (ST)

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