Chinese footballers raring to go for SEA Games
They emerged through different ranks and have survived the cut for the Games
The paths they took couldn't have been more different, and now, Stanely Ng and Ho Wai Loon are together as part of the 20-man Singapore Under-23 football squad that will battle for glory at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil.
Ng, who turned 23 on Wednesday, impressed local selectors as a 16-year-old and has finally got a national stage to show what he is capable of.
In 2008, the forward was part of the talented Class of '92 that became the first Singaporean youth team to qualify for a continental finals, when they made the AFC Under-16 Championship, scoring six goals in four games in the qualifiers.
While there was never any doubt over his talent, Ng's form dipped as his playing time with the Courts Young Lions was reduced during his National Service stint and he missed out on the 2013 SEA Games and last year's Asian Games.
"I was very disappointed to miss out on the Asian Games squad, but it spurred me on to prove that I can play and I deserve to be part of a major Games," said Ng, who left the Courts Young Lions to join Home United this season.
"I thought I had to venture out. I worked hard and I'm grateful that coach (Philippe Aw) sees something in me. Home United have played a big part in me being noticed and now getting called up for the SEA Games squad."
The likes of Fandi Ahmad and Kadir Yahaya have told The New Paper that more Chinese boys need to be playing football for the national team.
It would mean Singapore are once again tapping on a wider pool, with talented youngsters not ditching football for studies, for example.
Said Ng: "I deferred two semesters of my Kaplan mass communications diploma course because I wanted this badly. I want to show that Chinese players like myself can contribute to Singapore football as well.
"My ultimate dream is to earn a senior cap, score and win something with the Lions at the National Stadium."
Ho, 21, is still pinching himself after his late rise to prominence.
He was not a product of the National Football Academy, unlike Ng.
Instead, the left back played for the Home United Under-16s and Under-18s, before joining the Balestier Khalsa Prime League team in 2012.
National Service then called, and Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic gave Ho's career a boost when he signed him after his operationally-ready date.
"After I came back from NS last year, Marko asked me where I played, and he told me I had more opportunities to play on the left, and I made my first-team debut against Hougang United," said Ho.
Little did he expect to play in the RHB Singapore Cup final last year and win a piece of major silverware in his first full season, before going on to play in this year's AFC Cup.
He recalled: "Syed Thaha suffered an injury after 30 minutes, and I was really nervous because I never thought I would play in a major cup final.
"But I've learnt a lot from Thaha and the others during my time with the club and they have given me a lot of confidence about my own abilities.
"To win and also play in the AFC Cup against top teams like Johor Darul Ta'zim, Kitchee and East Bengal in front of big crowds, it was a very good learning experience."
Now, with the Under-23s on a three-match winning streak, the duo have the chance to write another piece of history, if they help the Young Lions win a first SEA Games gold medal.
Both are not expected to start for the Under-23s' first game of the SEA Games tomorrow against the Philippines, although coach Aide Iskandar is keeping his cards close to his chest.
But talking up the squad, Ng said: "We are peaking at the right time, but we are not stopping there.
"We are hungry for much more, and we want to go all the way."