French test for Asiad hopefuls
National coach Stange hopes to impress SNOC with good show against France's U-21 side
It looks like a national Under-23 side, but has 29-year-old Khairul Amri as their captain.
The team have within the ranks, players who are age-qualified to represent the Republic at the 2015 South-east Asia Games here.
But there are also those who will become too old for Under-23 competitions after September's Incheon Asian Games.
And they will be led by national football coach Bernd Stange, who has called up 18 men to travel to Reunion Island to face France's Under-21 side on Monday.
Against a French side who have won all their six qualifiers for the European Under-21 Championship, the German hopes they can impress the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) enough to earn a spot at the Asiad this year.
"We are not in a position like Malaysia are, where they can have separate teams for specific tournaments, as we don't have that number of quality players available," said the 66-year-old yesterday, explaining the different groups of players in his squad.
"This is like an engine that will help us prepare together (for various tournaments like the SEA Games, Asian Games and November's AFF Suzuki Cup)."
Asian Games rules stipulate that three over-aged players can join a country's Under-23 side at the tournament.
But Stange must make do without some of his best players against the French.
LionsXII trio Safuwan Baharudin, Khairul Nizam and Hafiz Sujad will miss the clash due to injuries, as will Johor Darul Ta'zim's Hariss Harun because of club commitments.
He said: "The authorities should know that all these players need high-quality international games (that they will get at the Asiad), and I hope we can convince them to let us go... with good results, a good plan and good performances."
He also revealed that, in accordance to SNOC requirements, they are looking to set up at least one match against a side ranked in the top six of Asia.
"We are looking to play two more games before (SNOC's appeal deadline) in August, and we have even written to Australia," he added.
But for now, the focus is on their upcoming game in Reunion Island, off the south-east coast of the African continent.
The France Under-21 team include several top European prospects, including Marseille forward Florian Thauvin.
"This is a match against a top team, and at first I wanted the (senior) national team to play in this game, but later the idea shifted to using the Under-23s," said Stange, who is making the two-stopover, 20-hour journey, without assistants Fandi Ahmad and Aide Iskandar.
Both of them have family matters to attend to.
He added: "This is a true test - a test for men, not children - and it is important for us to show how good we are."
Goalkeepers: Izwan Mahbud*, Rudy Khairullah
Defenders: Madhu Mohana, Shakir Hamzah, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Delwinder Singh, Faritz Hameed*, Afiq Yunos*
Midfielders: Zulfahmi Arifin, Raihan Rahman, M Anumanthan, Faris Ramli, Aqhari Abdullah, Amirul Adli, Ammirul Emmran
Forwards: Khairul Amri*, Shahfiq Ghani, Sahil Suhaimi
Standby: Stanely Ng
We are not in a position like Malaysia are, where they can have separate teams for specific tournaments, as we don't have that number of quality players available.
- National football coach Bernd Stange, explaining the make-up of his squad for the upcoming friendly
Lions' front four give Stange hope
The national football team have struggled with goals, but coach Bernd Stange is optimistic that, in the current batch of forwards, there is hope for a brighter future.
In Shahril Ishak , 30 (Johor Darul Ta'zim II), Sahil Suhaimi, 21, (Courts Young Lions), Khairul Amri, 29, and Shahfiq Ghani, 22 (both LionsXII), the German clearly believes he has four front men who can propel the Lions to greater heights.
Asked about the foursome, the coach smiled broadly and responded simply: "There is light at the end of the tunnel."
Amri and Sahil have been called up to the Singapore squad that will travel to Reunion Island to face France's Under-21 side on Monday.
And the duo can already feel the positivity.
"We have been helped by senior players and naturalised citizens in the past few years, and now it's time for us to step up," said Amri, who has been given the skipper's armband in Stange's latest squad.
Amri has scored five goals all season, and two in the last three games, and he is buzzing with optimism.
"I think if the four of us do make the squad for November's AFF Suzuki Cup squad, we will get goals."
Sahil has scored five times in seven S.League games, this after missing the first six matches for not passing the league's mandatory fitness test.
"After missing so many games, I felt like I owed a lot to the team, and that has made me work harder to repay them," he said.
"Shahril and Amri have achieved so much, and it feels like Shahfiq and I have to step up and work harder."
Shahril and Amri have been in the national side since 2004, winning three Asean titles (2005, 2007 and 2012) under former national coach Radojko Avramovic.
Former Tampines Rovers forward Amri has an S.League title to his name, while Shahril won the Malaysian Super League title with the LionsXII last year.
Watching various Singapore teams win the Suzuki Cup has inspired Sahil, who vividly remembers seeing former international Noh Alam Shah lift the Suzuki Cup in 2007.
"I liked him best: his aggression, how he dribbled - and of course, how he scored," said Sahil.
"We spoke when we met in the gym, and he told me that when you're in a team that start to win, you get that winning feeling," said Sahil.
"And that's what I want: that winning feeling."