JUNIOR Eldstal and Nik Sharul Azim Halim are battling to be fit for Malaysia's defence of the Sea Games football gold medal in Naypyidaw next month even as coach Ong Kim Swee's future remains in the balance.
Kim Swee's contract with the FA of Malaysia as the national youth coach expires after the Sea Games and his future is to be discussed by FAM's executive committee today.
But for now, Kim Swee is sweating on the fitness of Sarawak midfielder Junior and Kelantan defender Nik Halim as he can ill afford to lose the duo with four others already ruled out of the Sea Games through injuries.
Junior has a long-standing back problem which could require surgery as does Nik Shahrul, who is carrying a knee injury with Kim Swee worried the defender might rupture a ligament.
"Nik Shahrul's situation is very difficult. He has been carrying a knee injury for some time and it will probably require an operation," said Kim Swee yesterday.
"We are worried the ligament could tear at anytime but the Sea Games is such an important tournament that it is so difficult to tell the players not to play. They are desperate to be involved but I rate their chances at 50-50."
Nik Shahrul, 22, has returned to Kota Baru for the weekend to undergo traditional treatment and he will be assessed again on Monday when he returns.
Junior is undergoing physiotherapy at FAM and is hopeful of being involved when Malaysia begin a bid for a historic third consecutive gold medal against Brunei on Dec 10.
"Start more recovery and rehab today (yesterday) at FAM. Still pushing and fighting to be fit for Sea Games. Anything is possible," Junior, 22, posted on his Twitter account.
Kim Swee needs both Junior and Nik Shahrul, who made a great impression in the national Under-23's Merdeka Tournament title triumph in September, to be fit as defender Fandi Othman, midfielder Gary Steven Robbat, winger Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor and forward Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim are out of the Sea Games.
Junior linked up well in midfield with Irfan Fazail while Nik Shahrul formed an effective combination with Fadhli Shas in defence.
Should Nik Shahrul not make it, Kim Swee only has the error-prone Shahrul Saad, young Wan Ahmad Amirzafran Wan Nadris and Amer Saidin, who has just recovered from injury, to fall back on for central defence.
"Nik Shahrul and Fadhli will be our main defensive pairing and I don't have many options. There aren't any players I can call into the squad at such short notice," added Kim Swee.
As for his own future, Kim Swee said: "My contract expires on Dec 31 but I don't want to talk about it. Since I joined FAM, this is my biggest task. My KPI (key performance indicator) depends on the Sea Games and I will only think about it after that."