Thursday, 14 May 2015

Players up for the fight: Aide

The under-23 team will take on Japanese fourth-division team Azul-Claro Numazu today as part of their preparations for the coming SEA Games. Photo: FAS

S’pore under-23 coach happy with squad’s attitude in Japan, but says tougher days lie ahead

By Noah Tan(Today)

SINGAPORE — They may not be regarded as favourites for the prestigious men’s football gold medal at next month’s SEA Games, but Singapore national under-23 coach Aide Iskandar believes his squad have the stomach for a fight.

The provisional 25-man squad will face Japanese fourth division club Azul-Claro Numazu today in a friendly today in Gotemba, Shizuoka where they are on a week-long training tour of Japan.

Despite criticism that the players lacked sufficient hunger to want to end Singapore’s long-overdue wait for its maiden SEA Games football gold medal, Aide said he was pleased with the commitment shown by the players so far in Japan.

“I can see the boys are very motivated for our first game in Japan. They are eager to show me what they have got today and everybody is really looking forward to the game,” said the 39-year-old former Singapore national captain.

At stake for the players is a place in Singapore’s SEA Games squad, with the provisional squad set to be trimmed down to the final 20 after they return on May 17.

Azul-Claro Numazu, on paper at least, are not expected to provide too difficult a test for Singapore’s SEA Games squad.

The team, who play their home matches at the 10,000-seater Shizuoka Ashitaka Athletic Stadium, are currently sixth in Japan’s 16-team Fourth Division with 20 points, seven behind leaders Sony Sendai. However, they lost their last two league games against Osaka (0-2) and Honda (0-5).

With Singapore set to play another friendly on Saturday against Shizuoka Sangyo University, Aide has outlined his intention to increase the intensity of the training sessions over the remainder of their training camp.

“I’m happy with the progress so far, but there’s still a lot of work and fine-tuning to be done with this team. Thankfully, the spirit and morale among the players are high,” he said. “This fulfils one of the objectives of this trip, which is to help the players bond.”

Singapore have never won the SEA Games gold medal in football, and the last time they reached the final was at the 1989 Games in Kuala Lumpur, where they lost 3-1 to Malaysia.

The target this time is to at least reach the final at the National Stadium on June 15. Singapore have been drawn in Group A, where they kick off their campaign against the Philippines on June 1, before facing Myanmar (June 4), Cambodia (June 8) and Indonesia (June 11).

Favourites Thailand, who have won the SEA Games title 14 times, are in Group B with Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Timor Leste and Laos, and are expected to reach the final again.

In a sign of their strength, Thailand’s national under-23 side — their SEA Games squad — only lost 4-3 to the senior Thai national side in a friendly at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium last night. The match was held in tribute of former Thai midfield star Attaphol Buspakom, who died last month, with proceeds from the match going to his family.

Among those expected to feature prominently in Aide’s plans during the SEA Games is attacking midfielder Irfan Fandi, who scored both goals in a 2-2 draw against Mongolia in a 2016 AFC under-23 Championship qualifier in March.

But the 17-year-old, who is the eldest son of Singapore football icon Fandi Ahmad, said: “As one of the younger players in the team, I’ll be working extra hard to prove myself to the coach and give my all to earn my place in the SEA Games squad.”

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