Young Lions turn to marathon champ Soh for inspiration
Coach Aide's men face must-win tie, and he turns to marathon champ Soh for inspiration
SINGAPORE v INDONESIA
(Tonight, 8.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium; Singtel TV Ch 134, MediaCorp okto & Toggle Ch 1)
Like many of the 40,000 spectators at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games opening ceremony last Friday, the Singapore Under-23 team were in awe over the electric atmosphere within the National Stadium.
Filled to the rafters, full of noise and glorious sporting mayhem, coach Aide Iskandar turned to his players and asked: "Do you guys want to play at the National Stadium?"
There was a resounding yes.
If they are to realise their ambition and qualify for the semi-finals, the Young Lions will have to beat the Indonesia U-23s in their final Group A game tonight at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Only the two semi-finals and final of the football competition will be held at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium at the Sports Hub, and the stakes are as high as it can get for Aide's charges tonight against the 2013 silver medallists.
On-pitch preparations aside, the 40-year-old coach has also been working on his players' psyche, and he has invited Singapore marathon star Soh Rui Yong - he won gold on Sunday - to give a motivational lunch-time talk today.
"Our journeys are quite the same. This is our marathon, and now it's the final sprint. So I hope the talk can benefit the boys," Aide explained yesterday.
The players have been prepped with hours of video analysis, as the coaching tandem of Aide, Kadir Yahaya and S Subramani have left no stoned unturned in identifying the Indonesian threats.
"The boys are ready - they want to show they can go out there and get a big result," Aide said.
"We're prepared for the dangers Indonesia pose. They have fast wingers and (midfielder) Evan Dimas is on form, so he's one we have to look out for.
"We have a game plan, (but) you know, we can come up with a plan before the game.
"Once it starts, it can all change.
"The senior players will have to be problem solvers on the pitch. They can't just rely on me. It's all up to them tomorrow."
Striker Irfan Fandi and midfielder Pravin Guanasagaran have recovered from knocks picked up during the 3-1 win over Cambodia on Monday.
The left-back position will see the only change, as Ho Wai Loon steps in for the suspended Shakir Hamzah.
The little-known 21-year-old (above), who played 36 minutes as a substitute on Monday, has been given tremendous encouragement going into the game
"Not having Shakir at left back is not going to affect our confidence," captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman said.
"Wai Loon blended well with the team during the (pre-tournament) Japan tour and the warm-up games against Laos and Timor Leste. I have the utmost confidence in him."
For the 23-year-old, who was part of the previous two SEA Games squads, this is his final chance to win gold.
"This is do-or-die, it feels just like a quarter-final," he said.
"For some of us, this is our last SEA Games. We don't want to end on a bitter note, especially on our home turf."
- S'pore U-23s probable line-up: Syazwan Buhari, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, M Anumanthan, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Ho Wai Loon, Safirul Sulaiman, Pravin Guanasagaran, Adam Swandi, Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi, Irfan Fandi
Fans turn against Aide and Sahil
APPREcIATION: Sahil Suhaimi (in red) celebrating with the Singapore fans after he scored against Cambodia on Monday. TNP PHOTOS: JEREMY LONG
Singapore Under-23 football coach Aide Iskandar has had to deal criticism even before his side began their SEA Games campaign.
But the reproval reached an ugly level last Thursday during the Young Lions' 2-1 defeat by Myanmar at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
On the bench, Aide had to endure a tirade of expletive-laden abuse from a group of fans.
His family, who were seated in the grandstand, weren't spared either.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Aide's wife, Ezreen Taib Zohri, 39, said a few fans recognised her and her children in the stands, and directed their abuse towards them.
"My kids and I were seated behind the bench. Some fans knew who we were, but they still kept hurling vulgarities at Aide and some of the players," she said.
"At one point, a man stood up and told my 11-year-old son (Adiel), 'Your father is a useless f*****'. I was so upset. After that, Adiel just looked at me and said, 'Mummy, mummy'."
Ezreen and her three children - Andre, 14, Adiel, and Estee, 8 - relocated to the VIP section.
"At the VIP section, a Myanmar official even asked me, 'Why Singapore boo Singapore?'," Ezreen added. "He said, 'Medal can buy, but spirit cannot'. I was so malu (ashamed, in Malay) to reply."
Aide, 40, knows fans can get frustrated and heated during a football match, especially when Singapore are not winning, but he is appealing to the fans to support the team tonight in their do-or-die Group A clash with Indonesia.
"I can take the abuse as a coach, but I can't allow kids in the stands to hear such cursing," the coach said.
"It's not the majority of fans who do it - just a small section, and I thank the genuine ones out there.
"Those fans who curse at the team, I know deep down inside, they want Singapore to win.
"But I hope they can show solidarity with the team. The moment they boo the players, some of them will be affected on the pitch."
Striker Sahil Suhaimi is one player who was bothered during Monday's 3-1 win over Cambodia.
Scoring the third goal in the 90th minute came as a huge relief for Sahil, who has been under fire for not scoring in the previous two games.
When he drilled home his effort, the 22-year-old put his finger on his lips during the celebration, as if to silence his critics.
Later, after the match, Sahil said: "There was one person seated at the King George's Stand. The whole game he kept cursing me.
"He had a sharp, loud voice; I couldn't not hear it. That's why when I scored, my first reaction was to tell him to 'shoosh'."
TNP has learnt that one fan, unhappy with Sahil's celebratory gesture, called the Football Association of Singapore on Tuesday, demanding that Sahil apologises to the fans. If he fails to do that, he will be jeered all night long tonight against Indonesia.
In response, Sahil said he has nothing to apologise for.
"I'm not against the fans. When they cheered after I scored, it was such a great feeling - and I went to high-five some of them," he said.
"Just that when you hear such personal abuse, it's hard not to be affected. (But) I tried to draw motivation from it.
"I'm not going to change my celebration. Maybe next time, I'll cover my ears when I score."