Fandi rallies behind his Under-21s
Coach says their 2-1 loss to Timor Leste in s-finals shows they need more exposure, which Asiad can provide
It was a disappointing night for Singapore's Under-21 football team as they crashed out of the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy competition, after losing 2-1 to Timor Leste in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
But coach Fandi Ahmad has rallied behind his players, choosing to focus on using the lessons learnt in the Brunei tournament to help them develop.
He said: "We're very happy because we gained a lot of positives in this tournament and the players fought till the end.
"I hope they learn from this experience and the mistakes that we made."
He urged his charges to eradicate their tendency to start slowly, a problem that proved to be costly in their semi-final loss, saying: "We need to start playing from the very first minute.
"In this competition, the negative part is we always start very late."
Adaptability was another area for improvement that Fandi brought up.
Against Timor Leste, the Young Lions struggled without key defender Irfan Fandi, who was suspended after being dismissed for a tackle in their previous match against Cambodia.
But he hopes that the U-21s will learn not to over rely on individual players.
Narrowing the gap between the players and stronger teams will take time, as he feels that his young side are still learning to cope against bigger players.
While there are many aspects to work on, Fandi thinks that their finishing in the last four is a step in the right direction.
The Young Lions had progressed to the semi-finals by topping Group B, after beating Laos 5-1 and losing 1-0 to Cambodia.
Fandi said: "They understand that it's a process, it's a journey that is very long. They know that they have to work very hard. Hopefully, we don't make the same mistakes."
In Group A, Myanmar and Timor Leste progressed to the last four, with hosts Brunei and Thailand, which sent an U-19 team, finishing third and fourth respectively.
Fandi admitted that his players are still finding their feet at the international stage and more exposure would help their development.
He stressed that playing domestic matches is not enough, saying: "We'll need to play more international matches, not just the Singapore Premier League games because international level and the local league are different.
"Hopefully, when we have more matches, they'll have exposure and experience. That's how our level will go up."
However, opportunities to play against other countries are sparse, with August's Asian Games likely to be their next chance.
Fandi hopes that the Young Lions, who still await approval from the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) for the Asiad, will get a shot at the Games.
He said: "I'm not sure whether we will get a ticket to the Asian Games, but we'll keep trying. We have to try because the best part about the Asian Games is the exposure.
"We need to play many international matches to move forward; we need to go out and play."
In 2014, the Singapore U-23 team were given the nod for the Asian Games, following an appeal with the SNOC.
They did not meet the standard criteria of the sixth-placed mark, or beating the sixth-ranked team from the last Asiad.
But their surprise 3-2 win over 14th-ranked Bahrain U-23s in a friendly helped them earn a ticket to the Incheon Games, where they finished third in their group comprising Palestine, Oman and Tajikistan.