Hassan optimistic about progressing in Asian Games, despite setbacks
They struggled to prove themselves to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) selectors and just a day before they were due to fly out to Incheon for the Asian Games football tournament, the national Under-23 side found out that they will have to do without midfield star Hariss Harun and head coach Bernd Stange.
Their journey to the Asiad has been fraught with obstacles, and the mission has now got even harder, but goalkeeper Hassan Sunny insists that this team can turn in a positive performance and advance out of their group into the last 16.
"From injuries to poor results in friendlies, teams are always faced with one pre-tournament issue or another but, once we get (to Incheon) and settle in, we will be focused and we won't let these issues demoralise us," said the 30-year-old, who, along with defenders Baihakki Khaizan, 30, and 24-year-old Afiq Yunos, form the three overaged players in the 20-man squad, who will now be led by assistant coach Aide Iskandar.
"We're in a tough group, but I still think we've got a chance to qualify (for the next round)."
The squad were finally announced yesterday by the Football Association of Singapore after a last-minute attempt to obtain clearance for Hariss from his club, Malaysian Super League giants Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).
JDT refused to give the green light, citing their preparations for the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals next month, and there was a further blow for the Singapore team when doctors advised the national coach not to travel as he recovers from viral fever.
The U-23s leave for South Korea today, ahead of their opening match on Sunday against Tajikistan.
Drawn in Group C, they will also face Palestine and favourites Oman.
The top two in the group will move into the last 16.
Singapore No. 1 Hassan, who has been in fine form this season and could well captain the side in Incheon, said: "Hariss is very crucial to us in midfield and we are disappointed to have to travel without him but M Anumanthan, who is likely to replace him, gave a good account of himself in the last game.
"We will just have to cope without Hariss."
Singapore played out a 0-0 draw with Hong Kong on Tuesday at Hougang Stadium, with 20-year-old Anumanthan coming on in the second half to provide much-needed bite in the middle of the park.
The New Paper had earlier reported that because the Asian Games tourney does not fall within dates set aside by Fifa for international matches, clubs are not required to release their players.
JDT coach Bojan Hodak told TNP then that they did not want to risk Hariss, who has become a key player for them.
Hassan believes that the resilient Stange, 66, will recover and eventually find his way to Incheon, with Aide an able understudy in the meanwhile.
"Aide knows almost all of the players well, and we know his capabilities equip him to handle the team, but I'm sure Stange will join us for the last group match, maybe even the last two matches," said Hassan. "We're not too worried by this."
Despite being plagued by a hamstring injury, fullback Shakir Hamzah is in the squad, a fact that will bring some joy to the team, along with the surprise inclusion of LionsXII forward Khairul Nizam.
The unfortunate Nizam has struggled with injuries all year, but proved in a couple of cameo appearances at the tail end of the season that he can be the ace in Aide's pocket.
'We just need to get to Incheon and settle our minds as quickly as possible, then I don't think these issues we are facing will be a factor," said Warriors FC goalkeeper, Hassan.
"We did well to beat Bahrain (3-2 in a friendly on Aug 5) and, if we can bring the same type of game to the Games, we are in with a shot."
SINGAPORE'S ASIAN GAMES SQUAD:
Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny*, Rudy Khairullah
Defenders: Baihakki Khaizan*, Afiq Yunos*, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Fadli Kamis, Amirul Adli
Midfielders: Faris Ramli, Nazrul Nazari, Zulfahmi Arifin, Anumanthan Mohan Kumar, Suria Prakash, Adam Swandi
Forwards: Khairul Nizam, Sahil Suhaimi, Shahfiq Ghani, Iqbal Hussain, Shameer Aziq
* overaged players
"We deeply appreciate the SNOC approving our selection, and hope to justify their faith in us... and the boys are all hungry and raring to go. We hope to make Singapore proud in Korea."
- Singapore coach Aide Iskandar