U-23 footballers must show discipline and desire
National Under-23 football coach Aide Iskandar is feeling the heat.
On Thursday night, his charges, who are targeting a first South-east Asia (SEA) Games gold medal this June on home soil, crashed 3-1 to Cambodia's U-22 side at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
This follows an 8-1 loss to Japan's U-22 team and a 2-1 defeat by Syria's U-23 side last month.
Some in the stands made their displeasure known by shouting for Aide's sacking and the former national skipper, 39, later apologised to the supporters for his team's performance.
Yesterday, a Facebook page and Twitter account - both named "Sack Aide"- were created, although they hardly created ripples on social media. At press time, the Facebook page had only 10 "likes" while the Twitter account did not manage to gain a single follower.
Former national striker Aleksandar Duric believes the U-23 players should take responsibility for their poor showing against the Cambodians.
"The players should look in the mirror and ask themselves if they deserve to play at the SEA Games," said the 44-year-old, who called time on his international career following Singapore's triumph at the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup.
"I was in the national team so I know the pressure and how tough it is to deliver with the spotlight on you. It's a heavy responsibility, but the boys must know they have to deliver."
Duric, who is assistant coach-cum-fitness coach at S.League club Tampines Rovers, saw the bulk of the U-23 squad up close when the Courts Young Lions took on the Stags in a bruising encounter on March 6. Tampines won 1-0.
Said Duric: "When we played them, they were aggressive, but I didn't mind that because you need that on the pitch.
"But I feel they need to control their emotions a little bit better.
"In the S.League, they are protected a bit by referees but, at international level, the referee won't hesitate to show you a red card."
Indeed, keeping cool heads seems to be an issue for Aide's team.
Aide's charges ended the match against Cambodia with nine men, after skipper Shakir Hamzah was sent off for a tackle from behind, while Sheikh Abdul Hadi saw red after an altercation in the Cambodia box.
While on a training camp in Turkey in January, striker Iqbal Hussain and midfielder M Anumanthan were sent off for off-the-ball incidents in a 5-0 thrashing by the reserve team of German Bundesliga side SV Hamburg.
Hougang United coach Salim Moin, whose side drew 1-1 with Aide's team in an S.League clash on March 2, hopes Aide will be brave enough to wield the axe on under-performing players.
"When they played us, I felt some of them were not motivated, because they know the chances of them featuring at the SEA Games are not high," said Salim.
"People who have followed the team will already roughly know who the first 11 at the SEA Games will be.
"I understand Aide has his own players in mind, so he released others (from the Courts Young Lions team) such as Faiz (Salleh) and Stanely (Ng).
"But Faiz is doing very well for me at Hougang now and Stanely is doing very well at Home United... Will they be picked?"
For all the doom and gloom surrounding the team, Duric still hopes the SEA Games squad will come good.
"Maybe it's good they lost against Cambodia, if the result will wake the team up," he said.
"I'd rather they lose now and peak in June and, despite everything, we need to give them our full support.
"I still think they can get there. The team have seven or eight really good players and that's enough to carry a side in a short tournament like the SEA Games."
"Maybe it’s good they lost against Cambodia, if the result will wake the team up. I’d rather they lose now and peak in June."
- Former national striker Aleksandar Duric on the national Under-23 team