Impress at Merlion Cup and youngsters could earn SEA Games spots
He may be just 17, but Geylang International striker Vasileios Zikos Chua has impressed Singapore Under-22 coach Fandi Ahmad sufficiently to earn a place in the Merlion Cup squad.
The 1.84m player, who was born to a Singaporean father and Greek mother, became the third youngest scorer in Singapore Premier League (SPL) history in April.
For him and other youngsters, the Merlion Cup - an U-22 tournament for regional sides - could be a stepping stone to greater things.
Shine and they could earn their ticket to the year-end SEA Games in the Philippines.
"They have been playing regularly in the SPL because of the U-23 rule and clubs are giving them a chance even though some are still under-aged," said Fandi, 57, at a press conference at Copthorne King's Hotel yesterday.
"I'm impressed with Zikos because of his physicality. He's quite strong for a young man.
"As for Danish (Irfan), he's been with us for a while. He was at the AFC (U-23 Championship qualifiers) in Mongolia and did quite well even though he's a substitute, but he's a good cover for us on the left side."
Fandi's squad comprise mainly players from SPL side Young Lions, but also include others such as midfielder Daniel Goh (Balestier Khalsa) and defender Ryhan Stewart (Warriors FC). Fandi's oldest sons Irfan and Ikhsan, who are based overseas, are also in the squad.
But, while Irfan, 21, who plays for Thai second-tier club BG Pathum United, returned last week, Ikhsan, 20, has had to shake off jetlag.
He arrived on Tuesday night from Norway, where he plies his trade with second-tier side Raufoss IL. Yesterday's training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium was his only one with the team since his return.
His inclusion for tonight's match would be a boost, as he has racked up four goals in 11 games for Raufoss. If he is unavailable, others such as Zikos, Haiqal Pashia and Amiruldin Asraf could lead the line.
Fandi, who also has the option of calling up two senior players during the Nov 30-Dec 11 Games, could also consider having over-aged players up front.
"We have identified at least four (senior) players who could possibly be playing with us but, at the end of the day, it depends on their teams as well," he said.
Today, Fandi will be putting the youngsters to the test when they take on the Philippines, who consist mainly of college players, in their Merlion Cup opener.
The Philippines' coach Anto Gonzales, 38, said: "We're happy to have a very big group of players this time around, as compared to when we competed in the AFF and AFC competitions.
"We have a bigger pool for this competition (and) we'll use this to see which players can progress to the SEA Games."
Thailand and Indonesia, who meet in the earlier match today, will also be using the tournament to test their players ahead of the Games.
MERLION CUP (U-22 tourney)
- Thailand v Indonesia (4.30pm)
- Singapore v Philippines (7.30pm)
- 3rd/4th placing (4.30pm)
- Final (7.30pm)
Where: Jalan Besar Stadium
Tickets: Available from the stadium's ticketing counter and via www.fas.org.sg/tickets