The goal was to end all confusion over player movement between the Singapore Under-23 team and the LionsXII, as the country enters the final straight of its preparations for the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which it will host from June 5 to 16.
In a shock development, however, it was announced at a media briefing by the technical team of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) yesterday that Under-23 head coach Aide Iskandar had been warded for dengue fever.
It is not known how long Aide (below), 39, will be out, but the FAS stated that assistant coaches Kadir Yahaya and S Subramani will lead the team while he recovers.
Despite the setback, national teams head coach Bernd Stange said in no uncertain terms that the SEA Games target was a place in the final, which will be played at the National Stadium on June 15.
Speaking to The New Paper, the German said all parties – the players, coaches and the FAS – are convinced it is an achievable target.
“We cannot say we don’t have a high objective; we want to deliver at the SEA Games, and that is to play in the final,” he said.
“That target is important for the fans, the players, the whole country.
“This Under-23 team are the base of our future, and so we need a top performance from them.”
Stange, along with Aide and LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad, have agreed on a strategy involving four players that are wanted by both teams.
A 30-man Singapore Under-23 squad will enter centralised training on Friday and the SEA Games team will then head to Japan on May 10 for a week-long tour which includes two friendly matches.
LionsXII players Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi, Christopher van Huizen and Zakir Samsudin will be made available, though, for the Malaysian Super League’s side FA Cup semi-final first leg against Terengganu on May 9 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
They will leave the Under-23s camp on May 7 and return to the fold before flying off for Japan three days later.
The quartet will not be available for the second leg of the Malaysian FA Cup semi-final on May 16 in Kuala Terengganu, but will be released again should Fandi’s side qualify for the final on May 23.
Subramani said it was important to have all 30 players together for Japan – the squad will be reduced to 20 upon the team’s return – but the coaches recognised the psychological boost the four players would gain playing in the first leg of the semi-final, and possibly the final.
Fleet-footed attacker Faris, 22, had been prepared to miss the cup-ties, and is over the moon over the decision.
“As players, we always give our best to whichever team we are playing for, so I was prepared to miss out on the FA Cup.
“But now, I hope to do all I can to ensure the team carry a good result into the second leg.”
Similar to the 2013 campaign, Stange will play an active role in the make-up of the final 20-man squad.
The football tournament will begin almost a week before the opening ceremony on June 5, with the hosts kicking off Group A action against the Philippines on June 1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The Young Lions will also play Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia in the group stage, and Stange warned that they could not afford to underestimate any opponent.
“Other than playing on home ground, it is a small advantage to be in a group which has one less team (from Group B),” he added.
Group B features reigning champions Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei and Timor Leste.
Sea games team will be ready
Results in the S.League have been poor, with Aide Iskandar’s Courts Young Lions showing just one point – a 1-1 draw with Hougang United – from six games.
The majority of the team are in the Singapore Under-23 squad that Aide will lead into battle in June’s South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil, and the performances in the domestic competition raised concerns over the side’s chances of doing well.
After an 8-1 trouncing by the Japan Olympic team in February, the Singapore Under-23s also crashed 3-1 to unsung Cambodia at home last month.
At present, most fans do not believe Aide’s team will achieve the target of reaching the SEA Games final on June 15.
But Young Lions assistant coach S Subramani is confident the team will be ready, as they enter the final stages of preparations ahead of their opening Group A game against the Philippines on June 1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
“The results have definitely not been good, but we are quietly confident we will do well at the SEA Games,” the former international defender told The New Paper, on the sidelines of a training session at the Singapore Sports School yesterday.
Mani pointed to newly installed assistant coach Kadir Yahaya as a key move, as the appointment has injected some much-needed team spirit within the ranks.
“The boys have been working hard as we focus on their physical and mental preparation,” the 42-year-old added.
“By June 1 we will be ready, but, as in any competition, winning the first game is crucial.
“A win against the Philippines will boost the team’s confidence even further.”
Crucial right now is for Aide to get back with the squad, after it was revealed yesterday that he was in hospital being treated for dengue fever.
The Under-23s’ 30-man training squad will come together for centralised training on May 1, with a tour of Japan scheduled from May 10 to 17.
The final squad of 20 will be announced after the tour.
Top priority for the team is to form a solid back four – something Mani said is still a work in progress.
Of late, the Young Lions have tinkered with five different players in central defence, including 17-year-old striker Irfan Fandi, whose aerial prowess is critical at set-pieces at both ends of the pitch.
Right-back and team captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman believes the team have started to gel.
“It has been said that our team do not have the same quality as the 2013 SEA Games team (which bagged the bronze), but we are determined to make up for it with great team spirit,” said the 23-year-old.
“The centralised training sessions will help bond us even further. We will be at our peak by the time the SEA Games is here.
“That is my team’s promise to all our fans.”
30-MAN SINGAPORE UNDER-23 TRAINING SQUAD
- Syazwan Buhari
- Fashah Iskandar
- Rudy Khairullah
- Shakir Hamzah
- Al-Qaasimy Rahman
- Sheikh Abdul Hadi
- Fadli Kamis
- Amirul Adli
- Irfan Fandi
- Taufiq Muqminin
- Zakir Samsudin
- Nurullah Hussein
- Ho Wai Loon
- Faris Ramli
- Safirul Sulaiman
- Stanely Ng
- Mohan Kumar
- Shamil Sharif
- Adam Swandi
- Muhaimin Suhaimi
- Shameer Aziq
- Afiq Mat Noor
- Christopher van Huizen
- R Suria Prakash
- Pravin Guanasagaran
- Shahfiq Ghani
- Sahil Suhaimi
- Iqbal Hussain
- Amy Recha Pristifana
- Taufik Suparno