Juniors eager to fly flag
F-17 Academy teams arrive in Sweden for a serious tilt at international junior football tourney
They spent 16 hours travelling, including a long flight and a transit through Copenhagen, before a three-hour train ride to get to their destination in Gothenburg, where they will compete in the Gothia Cup.
But the 27 boys from the F-17 Academy - 16 from the Under-13s and 11 from the Under-11s - showed no sign of fatigue as they looked ahead to the Gothia Cup, which some have billed unofficially as a youth World Cup.
Ten-year-old goalkeeper Erfan Nabil Amzah marvelled at the cool temperatures and the sights of a faraway land he has never visited; 13-year-old defender Samuel Kok delivered an impromptu rap as his teammates egged him on, while 12-year-old defender K Dashan cheekily wagered with this reporter: "I keep a clean sheet, you buy me a pair of socks."
The F-17 Under-13s are ready and raring to go and improve on last year's showing, where Ilhan Fandi Ahmad and Marc Tan led the Under-11s to a third-place finish out of 120 teams in the B11 category.
Defender Zamani Zamri, 14, who is one of two permitted overaged players, confidently predicted: "Champions!"
Midfielder Khairul Karim, 14, the other overaged player, added: "We are strong in attack but, to go all the way, we have to improve on defending as a team."
F-17 Under-13 coach, former international Steven Tan, wants his 16 young charges to enjoy the experience of pitting themselves against global opposition, when they begin their Group 20 campaign against Sweden's Karra KIF tomorrow.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, the 44-year-old said: "The boys have played together for two years, so they know each other well.
"They also won a strong JSSL Under-12 Super League this April.
"They are very happy to play. Most importantly, they are like family.
"We have a good mix of all races. All are born in Singapore, but we have boys of Greek, Kiwi, and Nepalese heritage.
"The Under-11s play in a seven-a-side competition which we experienced last year, but the Under-13s will play in the 11-a-side tournament, so we will need to get our tactics and fitness right to compete on a bigger pitch."
The Under-11s aim to get off to a good start in their Group 6 opener against Swedish side IFK Stocksund tomorrow.
Isaac Khoo, an 11-year-old defender, told TNP that his team had to go through an intense two-month fitness regimen, involving short sprints and interval training, for the Gothia Cup.
He said: "We are fit, fast and good in attack, but we can still communicate better."
F-17 Under-11 coach Jahsh Ruzzman is confident of progressing from the group stage.
The 40-year-old said: "Unlike last year's all-Singaporean team, this year's group is a more cosmopolitan side. In our team of 11, we have an American, a French boy, a Malaysian and an Indonesian, as well as seven Singaporeans.
"While our boys are not big, they are fast and have good technique.
"We will get the chance to see other gifted kids on this world stage.
"I dream of winning the Gothia Cup and putting the boys on the podium.
"Of course, I will be satisfied as long as they give it their all."