Hassan Sunny reckons Shahril Ishak has a key role to play if the Lions are to go all the way at the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup and win a fifth regional title.
The Army United goalkeeper came on for Izwan Mahbud in the 1-1 draw against Mauritius on Friday to earn his 75th cap and was on the pitch when Shahril provided a superb assist for Ikhsan Fandi to score the equaliser.
Shahril, 34, who came on at half-time, was arguably the creative spark that the Lions needed after going down to a fourth-minute goal from the visitors.
His creativity and vision opened up the space for Ikhsan to thrive in and the equaliser showed the potential between the attacking duo after a quick one-two released the Home United man who turned his marker and laid it on a platter.
After the game, head coach Fandi Ahmad explained that Shahril will still be a key player for the Lions, but the new head honcho reckons the Protectors star is more effective if he is restricted to just 30 to 40 minutes in a match instead of the full 90 minutes.
Hassan, who is of the same age as Shahril understands the coach’s decision but is adamant that experience is still a huge asset at the international level.
“When we (the seniors) came into the national team, we knew that sooner or later, the youngsters will take over us one day,” Hassan told FOX Sports Asia.
“This is the transition of a player’s journey but I think Shahril and Baihakki (Khaizan) showed that we still need that experience in the national team.
“You look at Shahril (against Mauritius) and it was obvious he made the difference. He came on, created the extra dimension we needed in attack and that comes with experience.
“He showed in this game that his good form in the league (SPL) was not just because he was a senior in the (Home United) team but because the club saw the experience and depth he brought into the game as an experienced player.”
While Hassan has accepted that the next generation of players will come through and replace the veterans, the shot-stopper is determined to keep his spot as the Republic’s main pair of gloves at the Suzuki Cup and beyond.
“As for myself, I still want to play as many games for Singapore as I can and then when the time comes for someone else like Izwan (to play), I want to be around to support him to make sure he gets to the right level,” Hassan remarked.
“Your journey as a player will change with age but your experience and ability will never fade. It is about finding the right way to contribute to the team, especially the national team.”
Shahril and Hassan are in contention for a starting berth when the Lions take on Fiji in their second international friendly with Fandi at the helm.
The game will kick off at 7.30pm local time at the Bishan Stadium, a ground that both players are familiar with having turned out for Home United.