Hariss, Shahdan 'familiar' Singapore duo for Sundram in Asian Cup QF
Midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman is eyeing a strong end to 2017 by earning half a century of international caps when Singapore take on Turkmenistan away in Tuesday night's crucial 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier.
Only eight of the 24-man squad have more caps to their names -- Hassan Sunny, Daniel Bennett, Mustafic Fahrudin, Hariss Harun, Shahril Ishak, Safuwan Baharudin, Fazrul Nawaz and Khairul Amri.
The 29-year-old has not had the best of times since fracturing his fibula and dislocating his ankle in a 4-2 win over Myanmar at Singapore National Stadium in the group stages of the 2014 Suzuki Cup.
Shahdan returned to competitive action towards the end of 2015, but suffered another hairline fracture on his right fibula in May 2016 while featuring in Tampines Rovers' 1-0 AFC Cup win over Selangor at the same stadium.
He made his comeback two months later in the Stags' 6-4 win over Hougang United in the League, but fractured the same area of his fibula again.
The elegant playmaker did recover in time to feature in the year-end Suzuki Cup before enjoying a mostly injury-free 2017 for club and country. With five goals, he has scored more and played more minutes than the past two seasons as well.
"It's been not a bad year for myself, but I'm not satisfied yet and I want to contribute more for Singapore as well as for my club Tampines," Shahdan told ESPN FC.
Having been deployed in the No. 10 role or shunted to the right wing on the international stage, Shahdan was pleased to be restored to the middle of the park and reprise the midfield partnership with Hariss in last Thursday's 3-1 friendly defeat to Qatar in Doha.
The duo played regularly together under Sundram's predecessor Bernd Stange in 2014, including the Singapore Selection's 5-0 loss to Serie A giants Juventus that year.
"It's always good to be playing for the first eleven for the national team, and being in the centre with Hariss does feel very familiar for me," Sundram said.
"He's very strong defensively while I like to go up and help out the attack, so I think we complement each other in that aspect. We still have good understanding with each other, but will need more matches together for it to be on par as before."
Singapore desperately need a result in Ashgabat to keep their Asian Cup qualifying hopes alive after starting off their Group E campaign with just two points from three games, two of them at home.
While Shahdan did not play in the 1-1 draw against Turkmenistan at Jalan Besar Stadium on Sept. 5, he made some key observations from the bench, which he hopes will stand him in good stead for this return tie.
"The Turks are physically strong and love to play balls in behind our defence," he noted. "We need to be wary of that. But on top of that, we need to focus more on our own performances individually and as a team.
"The team's growing well under this new [3-4-3] formation. and we're getting more familiar with our individual roles in the system. Hopefully, results will come our way soon."
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT