Lions Gold Medal Hunt Begins

There is no doubt Aide Iskandar’s job is a tough one. His SEA Games-bound squad have been handed an easier group for the Under-23 football competition but the irony is that expectations will be higher for them to deliver a better result than their bronze medal performance in 2013.

Singapore will host the 28th edition of the Games from June 5 to 16 and playing on home soil in front of a partisan crowd, the pressure will be massive.

During today’s (April 15) draw for the competition at the Sports Hub, Aide’s under-23 side were placed in Group A with 2013 silver medallists Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines.

The tougher Group B consists of defending champions Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei and Timor-Leste. The top two teams of each group will advance to the semi-finals but Singapore’s passage to the last four is anything but assured.

In six friendly matches they played from January to March in their preparation for the Games, they lost five and drew one. Two of the losses were during a training stint in Turkey, including a 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan’s Under-21 side.

On their return they were handed an 8-1 drubbing by Japan’s under-22 team, and they suffered a 3-1 defeat by Cambodia’s Under-22 side last month.

With Indonesia a perennial threat and Myanmar also in the mix, Aide has his work cut out to whip the team into shape.

He will only be able to assemble the entire team in May because the squad, made up of players from LionsXII and Courts Young Lions, have Malaysian Super League and S-League commitments.

“As hosts we want to do well and we have to challenge ourselves to qualify for the semi-final,” said Aide. “But our final phase of training will only kick off from May 1, which is an important and critical period when we can work on team bonding and cohesiveness.”

Team unity is an issue for the national Under-23 coach, particularly with talk among the fraternity that the poor attitude of some players is disrupting the team. Aide has engaged the help of former fellow Lions defender Kadir Yahaya, a reputed task master who steered Singapore’s Youth Olympics side to bronze in 2010.

“He is a no-nonsense guy who is focused on results and won’t stand for prima donnas,” said former international Lim Tong Hai. “The team needs to be consolidated before the Games and between Aide and Kadir, they could probably do it.”

Added former Lions midfielder Malek Awab: “The performance of the team during pre-Games matches in the last few months has not been encouraging.

“We had stars like Fandi Ahmad and Sundram (ex-striker V Sundramoorthy) during my time in the national team and none of them were prima donnas. if they want to make anything of themselves, they must follow the instructions of the coaches. If not, it is going to be tough for them.”



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