Sahil Suhaimi, Khairul Nizam called up to provide competition
Lions coach feels Sahil can make impact off the bench, while Nizam is close to a No. 9
When they burst onto the scene, Khairul Nizam and Sahil Suhaimi were saddled with the bulkiest of burdens, comparisons with legendary Lions striker Fandi Ahmad.
The comparisons have not panned out to plan for the pair, as years on, it is another Fandi - Ikhsan - who has assumed the mantle of Singapore's top striker with seven goals from 16 caps.
But both Nizam, 28, and Sahil, 27, have been offered a second chance as Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida looks for back-up options for the 20-year-old Ikhsan, particularly after Khairul Amri's retirement from international football in September.
Sahil is in line for his first outing since 2016, while Nizam, who has yet to score in his 22 caps, last donned the national jersey during an eight-minute cameo against Oman in March.
The catalyst for the pair's call-ups has been their form for Warriors FC during their run to the Singapore Cup final.
With four goals apiece, Sahil and Nizam were joint-top scorers in the competition, alongside the Singapore Premier League's top marksman Andrei Varankou.
Ahead of the Lions' international friendly against Asian champions Qatar in Doha tomorrow, a candid Nizam - whose career has been plagued by injuries - admitted that he is not thinking of the call-up as the precursor to an extended run in the national set-up.
He told The New Paper: "I was excited and afraid because I was not sure if I could cope with the training.
"When I asked around, they said that his (Yoshida's) training was quite tough.
"The first two days were quite tough but, after that, I started to understand how to adapt."
While Nizam has not become the next Fandi, Yoshida sees him a prime alternative to the Lions legend's son Ikhsan.
Said the 45-year-old Japanese: "The public and all the coaches say that Ikhsan is the only striker we have. But we have one more option, Nizam... We need competition...
"They have different styles, Ikhsan is more about the runs and his heading (ability), Nizam is closer to a No. 9 who plays in front of the opponent's goal."
As for Sahil, Yoshida sees him as an attacker who can come off the bench to "change the rhythm and tempo of a game".
He said: "Sahil is a good attacker who can also play in midfield. I was looking for someone who is able to change things, especially in the second half...
"He is small (1.73m), but has a good jump. So he is a good header (of the ball). He can also use both his feet."
Sahil admitted that his prolonged international exile had him worried that his days in a Lions jersey were over.
He said: "It's great to be back. It gives me the chance to prove to people who I am... and what I am capable off...
"Only the best can play for the national team, so I have to keep working hard and scoring more goals to stay here."
While Sahil and Nizam may have not lived up to the unfair expectations of emulating Fandi, should they grab their Lions' lifeline, they can do the next best thing.
They can provide the competition to bring the best out of his son when he is on the pitch and offer Yoshida alternatives to Ikhsan when he is off it.
"The public and all the coaches say that Ikhsan is the only striker we have. But we have one more option, Nizam... We need competition."
- Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida on recalling Khairul Nizam and Sahil Suhaimi for the upcoming games