Project Football Gold starts with 43 names
The Singapore men's Under-23 football team have targeted gold at this year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games in front of their own fans.
The 28th SEA Games will be held here from June 5 to 16, and as the excitement level builds, coach Aide Iskandar and a squad of 26 are currently in Turkey as part of their preparations for the tournament.
Yesterday, the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) released the names of athletes in the first round of the selection process for the Games, and amid a long list of team sports are a 43-strong football squad.
Fandi Ahmad's sons, Irfan and Ikhsan, and The New Paper's Dollah Kassim award-winners Ammirul Emmran Mazlan (2010), Adam Swandi (2011) and R Aaravin (2012) are in the squad, which will eventually be trimmed to 20.
Speaking to TNP last night after the team's 5-0 loss to the reserve team of German Bundesliga outfit Hamburg, Aide said: "I know three-quarters of who I want in the squad, so there's another five slots up for grabs.
"And it's up to the players to fight for those spots.
"I have some options I want to look at, such as some of the boys in the Under-22 squad who are heading to Bangladesh for a tournament soon, as well as players in the LionsXII and those at S.League clubs who are still eligible.
"To me, everybody stands an equal chance. Players like (19-year-old) Adam Swandi are maturing and developing well.
"For Irfan and Ikshan Fandi (17 and 15, respectively) we must monitor them closely and make sure they get regular football under their belt."
The SNOC's list yesterday featured more than 900 nominations out of 1,234 entries, including athletes for multiple events.
The number will be whittled down in April, after the various national sports associations (NSAs) make their final selections, but Singapore will likely field their largest contingent in the history of the biennial Games this year.
While the benchmark for SEA Games selection has always been set at the bronze-medal mark of the previous Games, the selection committee for this year's edition, headed by SNOC president and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, has eased the criteria.
Said SNOC secretary general Chris Chan: "All the while we've told athletes to aim for third placing, that's the standard. We can't say that just because we are hosting, we will... lower the standard.
"But we also acknowledge that we are hosting the Games... we want to put on a good showing and give the athletes the opportunity to be at the start line, and try and bring honour to the country.
"(But) we didn't move the goalpost so far that everyone comes in."
Athletes or teams who finished on the podium at the last Games, in December 2013, have been included, as the committee deemed the results recent enough.
Athletes will also have a wider margin off the qualifying mark for selection this year.
NSAs will have the final say on who will get the nod for the Games if the number of eligible athletes exceed the number of slots on offer for a particular event.
Said Chan: "For those sports who have never won a bronze or a silver, this is their chance. For sports who have been in the doldrums, here's the chance to get that boost, and hopefully the sport will come alive again."
He cited the example of wrestling, which is slowly gaining traction after its introduction at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games here.
While Chan is confident Singaporeans will feature in all 36 sports, it is unlikely that the Republic will be represented in all 402 events at this year's SEA Games.
Athletes have until April 2 to meet the qualifying marks, and the contingent will be finalised when the SNOC selection committee reconvenes on April 15.
The easier selection process is likely to be one-off, though.
Chan said: "I think so (that it's one-off), whether it (relaxed selection policy) happens for the next one, I am not so sure.
"We are taking this approach for this Games, let's see what happens."
"I know three-quarters of who I want in the squad, so there’s another five slots up for grabs. And it’s up to the players to fight for those spots."
— Singapore U-23 coach Aide Iskandar