Veteran Lion Shahril opens up on his Asian Cup mission

FourFourTwo’s Kenneth Tan caught up with Singapore captain Shahril Ishak, who spoke about scoring his first international goal against Norway, plying his trade on foreign shores and pushing for Asian Cup qualification with the Lions…

It’s been 11 long years but Shahril’s memories of his first-ever goal in the famous red shirt of the Lions remain vivid.

“Of course I still remember,” he chuckled. “It was at the old Kallang Stadium when we played Norway in a friendly and we lost 5-2.

“I was very young back then (20 years old) so I was lucky to have my idols like Aide (Iskandar) and Rafi (Ali) to guide me along. It was a long-range shot that managed to beat the keeper and that goal-scoring feeling was truly amazing.”

Shahril was part of the special “NFA (National Football Academy) Gang of Four” which consisted of Ridhuan Muhammad, Baihakki Khaizan, Hassan Sunny and himself.

The quartet played alongside each other in their teenage years and made their respective international nods in 2003.

Fast forward to 2015, Shahril is now the oldest member of the squad at 31 (alongside Baihakki and Hassan) and the most capped Singapore international, with 125 apearances to his name.

He is not an automatic starter these days, having featured for only a total of 10 minutes over the last three joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers.

We have a very good chance to make the Asian Cup this time round

He started last Thursday’s match against Afghanistan, but was substituted at half-time as coach Bernd Stange attempted to find a formation that could find a way through the Afghans, a game they ultimately won 1-0.

However the playmaker remains proud of his achievements over the years as he looks to guide the next generation of Lions to greatness.

“It is unbelievable how time flies and it feels like my hard work has all paid off after coming so far,” said the 2013 AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Player of the Year.  

“Now I’ve got no regrets; I achieved 125 caps and got three AFF Suzuki Cups. I feel proud of every call-up to the national team and I just want to enjoy every moment inside the field. Of course it’s frustrating not to play, but I’m happy to see there is healthy competition in terms of fighting for spots in the first 11.

“Every player has a role to play and if called upon, he is to give 110 per cent for the game. Now I just hope these youngsters can look up and learn from the seniors like me, Bai, Hassan and even Fazrul (Nawaz), just like how I did in the past.”

Over the course of his career, Shahril has often shown an appetite for football at a higher level, whenever the opportunity arose. Back in September 2010, the then-Home United player left Singapore to play for Indonesian outfit Persib Bandung.

He spent six months there before joining Medan Chiefs, where he scored five goals in 18 matches. With the Indonesia Premier League folding up in the third quarter of 2011, Shahril returned to local shores – signing for the newly-created LionsXII to play in the Malaysia Super League (MSL).

After leading the Singaporeans to the 2013 MSL title, he then linked up with Malaysia Premier League side (MPL) Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II where he has spent the last couple of years. The Singapore captain believes the foreign adventures have helped him develop his game.

“As a player, it’s definitely an achievement to play around (Southeast) Asia,” he shared. “You get to experience their football systems and cultures, which is very different when you’re at home in the S.League.