F-17 Academy head to Youth World Cup
Like last year, the F-17 Academy are aiming to make an impact at this year's Gothia Cup
They felt the euphoria of finishing third out of 120 Under-11 teams in a football tournament dubbed the Youth World Cup last year.
And the F-17 Academy are back in the Gothia Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden, this year for another bite of the cherry, with two new teams - their Under-13s (11-a-side) and Under-11s (seven-a-side).
F-17 head coach and former international Steven Tan said: "I want the boys to experience playing against other countries, rather than face the same old opponents week in, week out. They will cherish and remember the matches they played.
"Last year, our Under-11s went beyond our expectations. For all of them, it was the first time playing in such a big tournament. For some, it was their first time out of the country.
"As such, preparation is very important for such a major tournament.
"It has to be nothing short of 100 per cent, and I'm happy to see our boys working their socks off for this. Even if some of them have had to train and play during the fasting month, they never complained.
"We know that the Europeans will be big, so we had to pass and move better instead of engaging them in physical challenges.
"We worked on basic skills, technique and fitness. We may be smaller, but we can play smart."
Watch: The road to Gothia in 2014
Making their tournament debut last year, the F-17 beat bigger boys from Sweden, France, Austria and England, before being stopped in the semi-finals by eventual winners TJK Legion Tallinn from Estonia.
The Gothia Cup began in 1975 and is the biggest international youth football competition of its kind for male and female players aged between 11 and 18.
This year's event, which takes place from tomorrow until next Saturday, will feature 1,755 teams from 75 countries competing across different age groups.
Nearly a million players from 142 countries have participated in the tournament over the last four decades.
The F-17 team that bagged third place in the Gothia Cup in 2014. PHOTO: F-17 ACADEMY
F-17 football director and former national captain Fandi Ahmad added: "By playing in the Gothia Cup, we can show the world that there is good football talent in Singapore."
As most of last year's boys will be sitting for their PSLE this year, they are not going to Gothenburg, with the exception of last year's 16-goal star Ilhan Fandi Ahmad, who will play for the Under-13s this year.
The F-17 teams will still feature a majority of Singaporeans, with a sprinkling of other nationalities such as Malaysian, Indonesian, Nepalese, American, French and Kiwi boys.
Their campaign starts on Monday, and their target this year is for the Under-13s to make it to the last 16, while noting that the Under-11s, whom they hope can make it to the main knockout rounds, are largely a developmental team.
F-17 director Mizra Ismail revealed that by offering a subsidised rate for the trip, the F-17 are not making any profits from the boys' Gothia Cup adventure.
It costs each boy $3,500 to play in the tournament, and this includes flights, meals and accommodation, while coaching fees and preparation costs are waived as they go through a specific two-month training programme, where they train up to four times a week to prepare for the competition.
Looking at the bigger picture, Mizra hopes that such investments will help to change negative mindsets about whether there is a future in Singapore football.
The 31-year-old said: "We are often asked, 'Can one make a living as a footballer in Singapore?'. But I like to ask in return, 'What have you invested?'.
"We have parents who invest and believe. Like them, we are also willing to spend and give the boys the exposure. We can't depend on others to make that first step.
"To reap the rewards, we have to invest and play our part for the development of Singapore football. We don't want to keep asking what others can give us, or what the Football Association of Singapore is doing for us. We have to play our own part.
"We are making this investment to show people that there is a path for football. In a way, this is one step to prepare them for the world, and not just this island.
"I don't think we are competing with the many football schools in Singapore, like Chelsea or Barcelona. I feel we are an enrichment centre competing with other sports, such as swimming and taekwondo, which parents are more than willing to spend on for their kids to learn.
"But, through football, kids can learn to be more vocal and confident people. Not everyone can be Cristiano Ronaldo, but they can be leaders in their own right, while having fun.
"It would be great if we can see more public and private investment and parent involvement in youth football."