Give them more exposure
U-21 boys have potential, but need more top-level tests
There was something refreshing about watching the current Singapore Under-21 team play this week.
Maybe it's because that there weren't much expectations heaped on their young shoulders every time they stepped out on the football pitch.
Of the squad that finished runners-up to Iran at the FAS Under-21 International Challenge Cup yesterday, only two players - defender Amirul Adli and midfielder Adam Swandi - were part of the Under-23 squad that flopped at last June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
That team's failure was partly down to the hype around players such as Sahil Suhaimi, Shahfiq Ghani, Shakir Hamzah and Faris Ramli, all of whom played for the popular LionsXII team.
This time, there was no such fanfare. Rusyaidi who? Joshua who? Amiruldin who?
Indeed, not many give Richard Tardy's charges a chance at the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur in 13 months' time.
But, as their performances against Hong Kong and Iran in the International Challenge Cup showed, these boys have enough fight in them.
No one expected them to thump Hong Kong 5-0 in the first game.
But, powered by a sparkling performance by TNP-Dollah Kassim Award winner Joshua Pereira, 19, they did just that.
No one - not even the Iran coach, who had beaten Tardy's team twice in March - expected them to give the Asian powerhouses such a close fight in the final yesterday. But they did.
One can point to the fact the Iranians were made up mostly of Under-19 players.
But, did you know Singapore's starting 11 last night had two 17-year-olds in midfielder Hami Syahin and winger Haiqal Pashia?
In fact, only four players in the team were above the age of 19.
Every Iranian player was bigger and taller than the Singapore players, but the local boys still gave as good as they got.
There is clearly potential to be tapped on.
Hami showed a confidence that belied his tender age and diminutive build (he stands at just 1.66m), even attempting a shot from the halfway line last night, which dropped a few metres wide of goal.
Striker Amiruldin Asraf, 19, plays for S.League side Home United's reserve team, but the son of former national striker Nordin Khalil perhaps did enough in these two games to show Home coach Philippe Aw he could be ready for the first team.
But the players need more tests against teams like Iran, and in competitions such as these, to get better.
Adam, who Tardy says has enough skill to be a "technical leader" for the team, ran his socks off, and started making stray passes in the final 10 minutes. He was exhausted.
In fact, with about 15 minutes to go, Tardy was maniacally screaming from his touchline, cajoling his players to make runs and move.
The minds were willing, but the flesh was weak.
That's why the Football Association of Singapore needs to make sure this group of boys continue to play against the top teams in the continent as much as possible over the next year, if they hope to pull off a surprise in KL.
As Iran coach Amirhossein Peiravani said: "Singapore need to work on their mental side... (They) think there are 10 teams in Asia better than them. No, you cannot think like this.
"Competitions like this help the team change for the better. (Third-placed) Uzbekistan are one of the best teams of Asia, so are Iran.
"So it's better... than playing Nepal and Sri Lanka.
"Play South Korea, Japan, (United Arab) Emirates... It's better for them."
It's hard to disagree.