Singapore Under-23s must get result against Oman to stay in Asian Games
OMAN v SINGAPORE
(Tonight, 7pm, Live streaming on Toggle)
There is little doubt that the pressure is on the Singapore Under-23 football team, who have to collect four points at least from their next two fixtures to have any hope of qualifying for the Round of 16 at the Asian Games.
But, watching them train yesterday, it was hard to tell that they face two huge mountains to climb.
They switched almost seamlessly from a warm-up game similar to Captain's Ball - giggling and falling over themselves - to a simple state of focus when coach Aide Iskandar walked them through the tactical plan.
Central defender Baihakki Khaizan went from grinning from ear to ear to serious mode, barking out instructions as the players broke into their respective units.
They fluffed their lines in front of goal and were punished in their opening Group C encounter and that 1-0 loss against Tajikistan has forced the Singapore side into a corner.
Aide's men will at least have to post one win and a draw in their remaining games to stand a chance of finishing in the top two and advancing to the last 16.
Lose tonight against Oman at the Hwaseong Stadium and the Singapore U-23s might as well pack their bags and prepare for a flight home after Sunday's final group game against Palestine.
"This time we have to score," coach Aide said yesterday, after the team's training session.
"We had good chances against Tajikistan, and the boys were disappointed after the game (to have missed those chances), but they need to step up - and they know this."
Aide was referring to the team's attacking foursome of Sahil Suhaimi, Shahfiq Ghani, Faris Ramli and Nazrul Nazari, whom he will call upon again tonight to keep Singapore's slim hopes of surviving the group alive.
"We all know that Oman are probably the best team in the group, both tactically and technically, but Palestine's discipline and self-belief clearly showed," said Aide, of Palestine's shock 2-0 win over Oman in the other group game on Sunday.
"And Palestine were ruthless in front of goal. They didn't have many chances, but they put the ball in the net."
That clinical finishing is precisely what Aide wants his charges to emulate, especially considering the challenge that Oman pose.
"They may be a young team but, in terms of maturity and playing ability, Oman are up there. It will be tough," he conceded.
"But if Palestine can do it, so can we."
Aide, though, will not have it easy.
Forward Khairul Nizam is not 100 per cent match-fit and is unlikely to be risked, while creative midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin's ankle injury sustained against Tajikistan will see him start on the bench. Aide is also unlikely to gamble on attacking left fullback, Shakir Hamzah, whose hamstring is still sore.
Amirul Adli, the 18-year-old who is the youngest player in the 20-man squad, is poised to start in place of Zulfahmi, and while the defensive midfielder did look uncertain initially after his 26th-minute introduction against Tajikistan, he gathered himself and showed enough promise to earn a place in Aide's starting 11 tonight.
"He has shown a lot of promise, and (the central-defensive pairing of) Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin, like how he works for the team as well," said Aide.
While Amirul may provide defensive cover, the absence of Zulfahmi's creative spark will be felt but, despite the situation, Aide remained defiant.
"I have every confidence that these boys can get the job done.
The senior players, Hassan Sunny and Baihakki, have led the team really well," he said.
"(Tonight) I want to see the boys play with a never-say-die attitude, and work their socks off for their country."
PROBABLE SINGAPORE LINE-UP
- Hassan Sunny
- Al-Qaasimy Rahman
- Baihakki Khaizan
- Safuwan Baharudin
- Afiq Yunos
- M Anumanthan
- Amirul Adli
- Nazrul Nazari
- Shahfiq Ghani
- Faris Ramli
- Sahil Suhaimi
NO FEAR IN YOUNG AMIRUL
Amirul Adli is ready to clear his head, set nerves aside and burst out of the Singapore bullpen.
He may have been a little uncertain initially when he came on in the 26th minute in the Republic's 1-0 loss to Tajikistan on Sunday, but collected himself and did enough in the end to earn a starting spot tonight, when Singapore take on Oman in their second Group C encounter.
It is a crucial match for both teams after they lost their opening games and Amirul (above), the youngest player in Aide Iskandar's 20-man squad at 18, just wants to show just what he's got.
"I was a little scared initially against Tajikistan, but there's no more fear now," the defensive midfielder said yesterday.
"I've got the senior players to guide me on the pitch, and I know that this team have the capability not only to compete, but also to actually beat Oman," he declared, insisting this was not just youthful audacity.
"I'm focusing on filling up my tank for the physical part of my game, and (tonight) I will focus on the psychological aspects - and try to replicate what I do in training in the match."
Fast to cover space and strong in the challenge at Singapore's training session yesterday, Adli ventured to the fringes of his job scope, even attempting cross-field passes in an attempt to unlock his teammates playing as the opposing defence.
Having watched the first half of Oman's 2-0 defeat by Palestine, he is acutely aware of the threat they pose.
"Oman are very comfortable with the ball, and I know I have to be very aggressive when I face them. If we can (nullify) their passing game, we will have more of a chance to come away with something," he said.
"I'm not afraid. I know I've got the guidance of the older players in the team and we have been working well together.
"I'm learning from my mistakes and I'm ready for Oman."
- SHAMIR OSMAN