No Asian Games for Singapore Under-23 footballers
On paper, an away win against a tough Middle East side is not a result to scoff at.
But it appears the Singapore Under-23 team's 3-2 win over Bahrain in Manama early yesterday morning (Singapore time) will not be enough to convince the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to give them a ticket for next month's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
In April, the U-23 football team were rebuffed by the SNOC in the first round of selection for the Incheon Games, after submitting the results of six matches played during a month-long training tour of Turkey at the start of the year.
According to the SNOC, teams from hockey and football had to show results against opponents ranked among the top six in Asia to get the green light for the Games.
The deadline for appeals closed last Friday, but the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) had held out hope that a good result against Bahrain, ranked 14th in Asia, could help the U-23s get the nod for the Games, which will be held from Sept 19 to Oct 4.
Those hopes seem to be over, after SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan told The New Paper yesterday the benchmark had to be met before they would consider sending athletes to compete in Korea.
In response to TNP queries, FAS marketing and communications director Gerard Wong said the football body would still file an appeal to the SNOC, as it believes the team have chalked up enough results for them to test themselves against Asia's best.
"The team... had just a day to rest before playing a very important game (against Bahrain)," said Wong.
"And even though Singapore have always found it hard to beat the Middle East countries, we managed to get a good result.
"This shows that the players are starting to reap the fruits of their recent training stint in Austria, where they trained hard together twice daily and took on top club sides from Europe.
"They are now enjoying very good momentum and we should capitalise by giving them top international opponents to play against, so that Singapore football can rise to the next level."
Wong revealed that the FAS had tried to secure a match against a top ranked team from Asia.
"We had requested to play matches against the top six teams in Asia, but none were available to play us," he said.
"We are grateful to the Bahrain FA for its help in organising the match against its U-23 team.
"Even though Bahrain are ranked 14th in Asia, the fact is that the gap between all the Middle East countries is narrow.
"This is a country that narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups at the final play-off stage. It also qualified for next year's Asian Cup, and finished fourth in last year's Gulf Cup."
TNP understands that the FAS had secured an in-principle agreement for a friendly fixture against one of the eight quarter-finalists of the 2010 Asian Games. The match was scheduled to be played last month, but fell through after the proposed opponents backed out at the last hour.
It means the FAS appeal that will be submitted to the SNOC will almost certainly include the U-23s' performance at last December's South-east Asia Games in Myanmar, where they won the bronze medal, and results from training tours of Turkey and Austria (last month), along with the latest result against Bahrain.
The team also played one-off friendlies against their Indonesian counterparts (lost 2-1) and the French Under-21s (lost 6-0).
The Republic's U-23 football team took part at the past two Asian Games in 2006 and 2010. On both occasions, they had to appeal to the SNOC after being initially left out, and eventually exited at the group stage.
In yesterday's win over Bahrain, Sahil Suhaimi, a striker with the developmental Courts Young Lions side playing in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, grabbed two goals as their opponents had a man sent off just seven minutes into the second half.
The other strike for Singapore, who are ranked 29th in Asia, came courtesy of an own-goal by the Bahrain goalkeeper.
It’s a pity if the boys don’t get the chance to compete at the Asian Games, because it would be good exposure for them. But whether they go or not is the decision of the SNOC and, at the end of the day, rules are rules.
— Indra Sahdan, former national captain
If you want to keep improving, you have to compete with the best and the only way to do that is to go for every tournament. Whether they win or lose matches, that is immaterial. It’d be a good learning experience for them. Maybe the SNOC should give them a bit of leeway.
— R Suria Murthi, former national player
The FAS should know the criteria and work towards meeting them but, with the current selection criteria, it is tough. The boys should be given an opportunity gain experience, test themselves against other teams in the region and know where they stand.
— Seak Poh Leong, former national captain
How U-23s fared this year
Turkey training camp
- Antalyaspor (Turkish top-tier): drew 0-0
- Azerbaijan U-21: drew 1-1
- Denmark U-21: drew 1-1
- SV Horn (Austrian second-tier): lost 4-1
- Austria U-18: won 3-1
- Naestsved BK (Danish third-tier): won 2-1
- Indonesia U-23: lost 2-1 at home
- France U-21: lost 6-0 in Reunion Islands
Austria training camp
- Borussia Dortmund U-23: lost 5-0
- FC Pribram (Czech Rep top-tier): lost 6-1
- TSV Freilassing (German amateur): won 5-0
- Bahrain: won 3-2 in Manama
SNOC: Bahrain win not enough
A win over Bahrain doesn't prove you can compete with the best in Asia.
That was the firm stance of Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) secretary-general Chris Chan yesterday, when contacted by The New Paper following the Under-23 football team's 3-2 win over the Middle East country in Manama hours earlier.
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) had hoped that a good result over Bahrain, ranked 14th in Asia, would sway the SNOC into allowing the U-23 team to compete at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea next month.
But Chan insisted the SNOC's benchmark of a sixth-place mark at the previous Asiad had to be met before an athlete or team would be considered.
He pointed to Bahrain's Asian rank - outside the top six - and performance at the last Asian Games in 2010, where they finished bottom of Group B, behind Iran, Turkmenistan and Vietnam, as proof the Middle East side were not of sufficient quality.
"The appeal deadline is over already, there's really no discussion" he said. "I told the FAS what I told everybody (planning an appeal): I'll help you if you meet the sixth-place mark.
"But how can I consider this? If I do, I have to consider all those other athletes who meet seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th-place marks.
"Hockey, they tried and tried and they did it. Their appeal has been circulated and the (SNOC appeals) committee has come back and said yes.
"Equestrian, there's one appeal that was successful.
"There was another in fencing. They all met the marks."
Like football, the men's hockey team also missed out on the initial list, released in April, of 223 athletes from 19 sports who will fly the Republic's flag at the Asiad.
But Solomon Casojee's men went to play the sixth-ranked team, Oman, four times in three months.
The hockey team eventually beat the Omanis twice last month, to give their hopes of making SNOC's final list - to be submitted to the Korean organisers on Aug 15 - a massive boost.
In response to queries, the FAS said it would still file an appeal to the SNOC, as it believes the team have chalked up enough results for them to test themselves against Asia's best.
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ