Under-15s coach Selvaraj wants Cubs to be brave for daunting mission
They are hosts of their qualifying group, but few give Singapore any hope of making the 2016 AFC Under-16 Championship.
Only the winners of each of the 11 qualifying groups are guaranteed a spot in the Finals and the four best second-placed teams will also earn passage to the tournament next September in India.
Singapore are in Group H, drawn alongside heavyweights North Korea and Thailand, as well as regional minnows Cambodia.
The U-15s will open their campaign tomorrow against their Thai counterparts at the Jalan Besar Stadium and coach V Selvaraj is not about to throw in the towel.
At the team's base at the Peninsular Excelsior Hotel yesterday, the former Malaysia Cup double-winner believes playing at home will help his boys.
When The New Paper asked Selvaraj what his team need to qualify, he said: "Luck at the right time plays a big part.
"And heart... The whole team need to have it.
"That kind of mentality, to compete, to fight against our opponents, no matter how big or strong they are.
"Psychologically, show the right spirit, encourage one another all the way.
"Especially when the chips are down, one-nil down, or making mistakes. This is the time we need the team to have that heart."
North Korea are the most successful nation in the 16 editions of the AFC age-group tournament, winning two of the last three competitions (2010 and 2014) and finishing runners-up in 2004 and 2006.
Thailand, meanwhile, won the tournament once, in 1998, and are regarded as South-east Asia's top footballing nation.
Singapore have played in just one edition of the AFC U-16 Championship, when they automatically qualified for the tournament as hosts in 2006.
That team, featuring current national players Izwan Mahbud, Hariss Harun, Gabriel Quak, Izzdin Shafiq and Hafiz Abu Sujad, failed to make it out of the opening round, after they were drawn in a group featuring Japan, South Korea and Nepal.
Selvaraj's preparations for this week's qualifiers began with the AFF U-16 Championship in Cambodia in July, when Singapore finished third in a group of five teams, behind Australia and Myanmar, but ahead of the Philippines and hosts Cambodia.
He then had the chance to test his Cubs in the Lion City Cup, where they lost 3-0 to their counterparts from English side Tottenham Hotspur, conceding all three goals in the first half.
The 46-year-old coach has since been drilling into his charges the importance of settling quickly in games to avoid a repeat of the early collapse against Spurs.
It has not been easy preparing the Singapore side, with most of the players sitting for exams recently, but Selvaraj is thankful to the Football Association of Singapore and the Ministry of Education for excusing the boys from school this week for the tournament.
While he noted the physical superiority of the North Koreans and the quickness and technique of the Thais, Selvaraj vowed his team would not simply defend against the big guns.
"We won't sit back, (or just aim to) concede less... We will have the right balance," he said.
"I believe these boys have the confidence and quality.
"My most important message to them is, after the game when they walk out, they should have no regrets."
THREE CUBS TO WATCH
AKMAL AZMAN (midfielder)
The team's captain, the Singapore Sports School midfielder (right) will have to stamp his authority if the Cubs are to do well.
JOEL CHEW (midfielder)
The pint-sized Joel is the team's link between midfield and attack. He is technically sound and fearless.
But he (right) has a tough task to deliver against bigger, stronger opponents.
BENJAMIN DAVIS (striker)
Ben has had training stints at Arsenal's youth academy in London and has developed a telepathic understanding with Joel, whom he played with at local academy JSSL-Arsenal.
AFC U-16 Qualifiers
Grandstand tickets are priced at $10 and $5 for concession holders, and will be on sale from noon today online at www.globaltickets.sg and at AXS machines, until 4pm on matchdays.
Tickets will go on sale at the North Gate of Jalan Besar Stadium one day before matchdays from 10am to 5pm, subject to availability.
Tomorrow to Sunday
Jalan Besar Stadium
- North Korea v Cambodia (5pm)
- Singapore v Thailand (8pm)
- Cambodia v Thailand (5pm)
- Singapore v North Korea (8pm)
- North Korea v Thailand (5pm)
- Singapore v Cambodia (8pm)