Late pullout from Lions squad necessary to feel '100 per cent', says Song Ui-young
The timing of Song Ui-young's pullout from the Lions squad, and the subsequent official statement from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), has raised some eyebrows this week.
But the footballer's 11th-hour decision to withdraw from the national team gearing up for two friendlies in Vietnam was a result of a niggling ankle injury and the need for self-preservation, the 28-year-old player explained on Monday.
Hours before the 23-man squad departed Singapore for Ho Chi Minh City on Monday, the FAS announced that Tampines Rovers midfielder Syed Firdaus Hassan and Hougang United striker Sahil Suhaimi would take the places of attackers Faris Ramli and Song, who both play for the Lion City Sailors.
Faris withdrew as his wife is due to deliver their second child this week, said the FAS.
For Song, however, it said: "While both his club's and the Lions' medical team have cleared him to play, Song made the decision to pull out of the travelling team as a precaution to a previously sustained ankle injury."
The puzzling line preceded head coach Takayuki Nishigaya's equally cryptic comments on the matter.
The Japanese said it was "always a challenge when there are late dropouts", and added: "Family is more important than anything else, so I understand Faris not travelling with us.
"As for Song, it is his personal decision. I have full confidence with the two replacements I have called up and we must now focus on tackling the two matches that lay ahead."
Nishigaya had previously indicated the friendlies against Vietnam on Wednesday and India three days later were a vital part of his team's preparations for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship that will take place from Dec 20 to Jan 16.
He would have no doubt been keen to assess Song, who played an important role in the Lions' run to the semi-final of the last edition of Asean's biggest tournament in December 2021.
In the Sailors' last four Singapore Premier League (SPL) matches, Song came off the bench twice for a combined 57 minutes, before playing the full 90 minutes in a 2-1 defeat by Tampines in their most recent fixture on Sept 10.
In response to queries, a Sailors spokesman said Song "received a knock to his ankle" during that game, which affected him even four days later when he failed to complete a training session.
Song was advised by the club doctor to "monitor the injury" ahead of their next game against the Young Lions, which was subsequently postponed due to the death of FAS president Lim Kia Tong.
"The Sailors are fully supportive of the national cause and it gives us a sense of pride seeing our players don the Lions jersey and fly the Singapore flag," stressed the spokesman.
South Korea-born Song, who became a citizen in August 2021 and has since made 12 appearances for the Lions and scored three goals, said: "This is not the first time I have injured my ankle.
"The doctor said I could work my way back to fitness with the national team while monitoring the ankle. But because it continued to give me pain, I decided to be more cautious and take the doctor's instructions to monitor the ankle.
"With the AFF (Championship) coming up... important games in the SPL as well as another trophy to compete for in the Singapore Cup, I felt it was important to ensure that I am feeling 100 per cent so that I can continue to play at my best for both the Sailors and Singapore."
The Lions are four-time AFF Championship winners, but their most recent triumph came in 2012. In the last edition, under the charge of Tatsuma Yoshida they were knocked out by Indonesia after a controversial second leg semi-final clash. Yoshida resigned just three days later, and Thailand went on to win a record sixth regional title.
Nishigaya has overseen four games since his appointment in April, with the Lions suffering a friendly defeat against Kuwait (2-0), before further losses in the Asian Cup qualifiers against Kyrgyzstan (2-1) and Tajikistan (1-0).
They won their final qualifying match against Myanmar 6-2, but failed to progress to next year's final competition.