Footballers for Asiad after SNOC's U-turn
After an agonising wait, the national Under-23 football team finally received the news they had been waiting for.
The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) made a U-turn yesterday and included the team in the final list of 227 athletes who will fly the Singapore flag at next month's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
The selection committee met yesterday to consider appeals and finalise the list ahead of the Games' entry-by-name deadline tomorrow.
Shuttler Derek Wong, who won Singapore's first silver in men's badminton singles at the Commonwealth Games last month in Glasgow, Scotland, is also among those handed a ticket by the SNOC.
In April, the U-23s were rebuffed in the first round of selection, as they had not met the SNOC's criteria of matching the top-six result at a previous Asiad, or beating opponents ranked at least sixth in Asia.
In a last-minute bid to sway the selectors, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) arranged a friendly against Bahrain in Manama last week, when the Republic won 3-2.
But SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan told The New Paper a day after the game that the sixth-place benchmark still had to be met - Bahrain's senior side are ranked 14th in Asia, and Fifa does not rank U-23 teams - before the team would be considered for the Games, which will be held from Sept 19 to Oct 4.
But, as Bahrain are the reigning Gulf Cup U-23 champions, beating teams like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and 2010 Asian Games champions the UAE along the way, the SNOC have now relented.
In a press release yesterday, Chan said: "The efforts put in by the athletes and their National Sports Associations to meet the qualifying marks have been very encouraging.
"We are pleased to support these athletes in their pursuits at the Asian Games and look forward to Team Singapore flying the Singapore flag high in Korea."
National coach Bernd Stange, who was at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night to watch the LionsXII draw 0-0 with Felda United in their opening Malaysia Cup game, was delighted.
"I am very thankful to everybody who have helped us go through," said the German, who led the team in Manama last week. "It will be a very difficult challenge (in Incheon), but we will try our best.
"We have played teams like Borussia Dortmund (U-23) and Torpedo Moscow in recent months, and a lot of the (eligible) players will also be involved against Juventus this Saturday.
"I feel it is the next step for this team to progress further."
In an FAS release yesterday, Stange added that "playing against top-class international opponents in the Asian Games will certainly help our young footballers to raise their game".
The U-23 team took part at the last two Asian Games in 2006 and 2010. Both times, they had to appeal to the SNOC, and eventually exited at the first group stage.
OTHERS WHO MADE IT
- Samson Lee (men's epee individual)
Lee beat Kazakhstan's Elmir Alimzhanov, the fifth-placed fencer at the 2010 Asian Games, 15-12 at the Asian Fencing Championships 2014.
- Samson Lee, Lim Wei Wen, Willie Khoo (men's epee team)
The Singaporeans beat the Uzbekistan epee team, who were sixth at the 2010 Asian Games, 45-28 at the Asian Fencing Championships 2014.
- Lau Ywen (women's sabre individual)
Lau beat compatriot Ann Lee, who finished 5th at the 2010 Asian Games, at Fencing Singapore International 2014.
- Derek Wong (men's singles, above)
Wong beat World No. 29 Srikanth Kidami of India in the quarter-finals, and another Indian shuttler, world No. 34 R V Gurusaidutt, in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games last month, respectively.
Although Derek's current Asian ranking (32nd) does not meet the sixth placing of the qualifying mark, the SNOC felt he showed consistency, defeated higher-ranked players and captured the imagination of a nation with his silver-medal winning performance in Glasgow.
- Men's team
The team defeated World No. 6 Oman twice last month.
Catherine Chew (show jumping)
At the CSI 4 La Coruna last month, Chew achieved 4 faults and no faults in the 1.50m and 1.45m respectively. Her 6th place at the 2010 Asian Games was 8 faults over 2 rounds at 1.40m/1.50m.
- Ang Xuan Yi (women's under 57kg)
She finished 7th overall (6th in Asia) in her category at the Asian Open Taipei event last month.
- Gabriel Yang (men's under 90kg)
Yang finished 7th overall (6th in Asia) in his category at the same event.
- Ho Han Boon (men's over 100kg)
Ho finished 7th overall (6th in Asia) in her category at the same event.
Aide could guide U-23s in Korea
The ticket to Incheon has been secured, and the goal now is to find the coach to lead the football team at the Asian Games, which will be held in Incheon, South Korea, from Sept 19 to Oct 4.
Last week, national coach Bernd Stange led a 19-strong squad made up of Under-23 players and three overaged stars to Manama, Bahrain, where they beat the hosts 3-2 in a friendly match.
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) had hoped to use the result to convince the SNOC selectors to give them the green light to compete in Korea next month.
With the FAS viewing the Asiad as an important step in the U-23s' quest for Singapore's gold medal in football at next June's South-east Asia Games, which will be held on home soil, Courts Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar is thought to be in the running for the coaching job for the Asian Games.
Last month, former national skipper Aide was with the U-23s for a little over half of their 17-day training camp in Salzburg, Austria, returning home a week before the team due to family commitments.
While the LionsXII are currently involved in the Malaysia Cup, coach Fandi Ahmad could also get the nod for the Asian Games.
The Asian Games football competition will kick off earlier, on Sept 14, and end on Oct 3.
The Malaysia Cup opening group stage ends on Sept 3, with the knockout rounds starting on Oct 3.
Stange (photo), who was at Jalan Besar Stadium last night to watch the LionsXII draw 0-0 with Felda United in their opening Malaysia Cup match, declined to shed any light on the issue.
"We had a clear plan for both (eventualities), if we manage to go or if we don't," the German told The New Paper. "Now, we go with Option 1. We will sit down tomorrow and discuss all the necessary steps to take."
He did, however, confirm that he will be with the team in Incheon regardless of who the FAS appoints as the U-23s' head coach.
When asked if he would travel, Stange, 66, said: "Of course.
"I am the national teams coach. It is my job." - SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ