Fandi Ahmad not intimidated by S'pore U-22s’ tough SEA Games draw
S'pore U-22s coach says being grouped with Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia should spur his players
Singapore were handed a tough draw in their quest to reach the semi-finals of the SEA Games football tournament in the Philippines from Nov 26-Dec 10.
Yesterday's draw ceremony in Manila saw the Republic placed in Group B, alongside three-time defending champions Thailand and last year's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Championship runners-up Vietnam.
The other teams in the group are 2017 bronze medallists Indonesia, Laos and Brunei.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Timor-Leste make up Group A.
The biennial SEA Games football tournament is an U-22 event, but each team are allowed to field two over-age players for this edition.
Singapore have suffered group-stage exits at the last two Games. The last time they reached the semi-finals was in 2013, when they won bronze.
Said Young Lions coach Fandi Ahmad: "We have a tough group for the SEA Games. Both Thailand and Vietnam have qualified for the AFC U-23 Championship next year.
"We should not be intimidated by any opposition, but rather use it as motivation for us to perform better.
"It is only when we play against the best teams in Asean that we improve ourselves...
"In terms of who will be called up to the SEA Games squad, I have 40 players vying for 20 spots... I will be finalising the list and making an announcement closer to the tournament."
Fandi is considering defender Tajeli Salamat, 25, midfielder Raihan Rahman, 28, and three others for the two over-age player slots. Lions captain Hariss Harun has previously signalled his interest in playing at the SEA Games.
Yesterday's draw had South-east Asia's top-ranked side Vietnam (world No. 99) feeling confident.
Vietnam Football Federation's general secretary Le Hoai Anh told local news outlet Nhan Dan: "Group B will be much more competitive than Group A. But Vietnam U-22s will storm through the group stage and move towards the title, based on current form and power."
The Vietnamese team could feature defender Doan Van Hau, 20, who plays in Holland for Heerenveen and midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai, 22, who was named the Best Player at last year's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, which Vietnam won.
Thailand, too, have some talented young guns to call upon, including attackers Supachok Sarachat, 21, Supachai Jaided, 20 and 17-year-old Suphanat Mueanta - who was selected by The Guardian as one of the 60 best players in the world born in 2002.
The Young Lions could also come up against former Singapore youth player and Fulham midfielder Ben Davis, who is in Thailand's provisional SEA Games squad.
The Phuket-born 18-year-old qualifies via his Thai mother. He moved to Singapore when he was five, but defaulted on his national service obligations earlier this year.
The War Elephants will be led by Akira Nishino, who helped Japan reach the last 16 of last year's World Cup.
Former Thai midfield general Therdsak Chaiman believes this year's team are better than the side that won gold in Kuala Lumpur two years ago.
He said: "This is a tough group with many strong teams.
"This year's Thailand team are stronger than the one that took part in the last SEA Games.
"Vietnam are strong too, but in a tournament like the SEA Games, you never know, maybe Singapore and Thailand will go through to the semi-finals."
SEA GAMES DRAW