Singapore Under-22s aim to face up to giants China
AFC UNDER-23 CHAMPIONSHIP
SINGAPORE U-22 v CHINA U-22
(Today, 5pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
They may be heavy underdogs, but national Under-22 coach Richard Bok and his players are not throwing in the towel just yet, as they prepare to face Asian powerhouses China today.
The squad are in Vientiane, Laos, to compete in qualifiers for next January's AFC Under-23 Championships in Qatar.
The team began their Group J qualifying campaign on Friday with a disappointing 0-0 draw with group hosts and regional minnows Laos.
The result was a blow to their hopes of qualifying, as only group winners and the five best second-placed sides from the 10 qualifying groups advance to the Finals.
China, meanwhile, cantered to a 5-0 win over Mongolia, the other team in the four-nation group.
Bok (above), however, is not about to wave the white flag as he prepares his team for what naysayers are predicting will be a slaughter.
"We saw the second half of (China's) match, and Mongolia put nine men in front of the penalty box, so they weren't in a hurry and could play the ball around," said the three-time S.League Coach of the Year.
"We won't do the same thing. Yes, we must defend well but we will also try to take the game to them.
"Mongolia tried to catch them on the break and caused them some problems, so we have a chance."
Bok will ring the changes from the Laos game, as a number of his players struggled with knocks and cramps in what was a keenly-contested battle.
Goalkeeper Zulfairuuz Rudy, who made a number of important stops to ensure the point, and striker Irfan Fandi, the 17-year-old son of Singapore football icon Fandi Ahmad who was deployed in defence, are struggling with thigh injuries.
Captain Iqbal Hussain, who came off the bench after arriving in Vientiane only on Friday morning because he attended the funeral of his grandfather on Thursday, was one of the few bright spots in the Laos game but is struggling with illness.
Bok wants energy in his side, and said: "The match will be played at 4pm (Laos time), so we need fresh legs.
"The boys are definitely disappointed we couldn't snatch the three points from the Laos game, because even though (Laos) had more shots, we had the clearer openings.
"But now we're just focusing on the China game, and we'll see if we can pull off a shock.
"It's not impossible, but it's a big, big challenge."