Pressure on footballers to win SEA Games gold
Sahil and Faris want to show at SEA Games that Singapore football 'is not dead'
The Singapore Under-23s have not had much to shout about as they prepare for the 28th South-east Asia Games in June.
The pressure is on the footballers to deliver on home soil, and flying winger Faris Ramli and striker Sahil Suhaimi will carry much of the burden as Aide Iskandar's side try to at least reach the final.
Here, the two youngsters from Malaysian Super League side LionsXII talk to David Lee about their hopes and the team's chances.
Thailand are touted as favourites for the SEA Games football gold, but there are also Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. How about Singapore?
FARIS: It is an open tournament where anyone can have a good run and win the gold medal. In training, I can see our players being fired up.
I definitely think we are capable of winning the gold medal. We have to show doubters that Singapore football is not dead and we are capable of playing good football.
SAHIL: In any regional tournament, Thailand are always going to be the favourites. But we proved in the SEA Games semi-final in 2013 that we can match them, losing only through a penalty.
Our target is to reach the final, and, from there, anything can happen.
The key factor is teamwork. I feel every player in our team can do something special.
Singapore have been grouped with Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines in Group A. Are you guys happy with the draw?
FARIS: It's a good draw, but we cannot be over-confident. Indonesia will be a big threat because they have fast and skilful players such as winger Andik Vermansyah and Evan Dimas, a central midfielder with a killer pass.
I just spoke to Andik and he told me Indonesia have a young team who are hungry for success after winning silver in 2013. I'm sure Cambodia and the Philippines will also have something up their sleeves.
We just have to play our own game, coach Aide (Iskandar) has a plan for us and I can't wait to get going.
SAHIL: We cannot underestimate any team, even if people think Group B is tougher. We must focus on what we have to do.
The aim is to top the group. Indonesia and Myanmar look like our strongest opponents, and we have a score to settle against Cambodia. They were hungrier than us when they beat us 3-1 in a friendly recently, but we will be a much better team at the SEA Games.
Is the pressure mounting as the clock ticks down?
FARIS: It's a big moment and it's all very exciting to me. Singapore is hosting the SEA Games and I just can't wait. In fact, I have been waiting for this moment since the last SEA Games.
We were so close in Myanmar two years ago when we lost 1-0 to eventual champions Thailand in the semi-finals. It is time for us to step up.
Two of you are with the LionsXII, while most of your Under-23 teammates are with the Courts Young Lions. Will this affect chemistry?
FARIS: I don't think so. We have been playing together for so long now. We are not unfamiliar with one another and we have had so many opportunities to train and play together over the years.
You guys were the stars of the last SEA Games, as well as the Asian Games. Now you are among the senior players in this Under-23s team. What are your responsibilities?
SAHIL: We have to guide the younger players, just as Hariss (Harun), Safuwan (Baharudin) and Izwan (Mahbud) did at the last SEA Games.
We will tell the younger players not to assume they have more opportunities to win the elusive gold.
We have talked about it, and all of us are on the same page.
We definitely don't want to finish empty-handed. Then again, talking about it is not enough. We must get the job done on the pitch.
Sahil, you have been playing out of position for the national team and have mostly come on as a substitute for the LionsXII. Are you up to the task of being a goalscorer at the SEA Games?
SAHIL: I have not always been played as the main striker, but I can't be selfish.
I just have to do my best in any position I'm called upon, even as a defender. That's how much I want to play.
Before every tournament, I'll always set a target, which is basically to score in every game.
I managed to score at the last SEA Games and Asian Games, and I know I have to continue working hard and find more goals.
I don't want people to say that I'm good for just one tournament.
Do you feel the pressure? How are both of you coping?
FARIS: Pressure is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes and motivates us to do better. For me, expectation is much better than if people don't think we are capable.
SAHIL: The pressure is there, and not many Singaporeans think that we can go all the way. It's up to us to prove them wrong.
Are your family and friends excited about watching you? What have they said and will they all watch the Games?
FARIS: Just recently, my brother asked me about tickets, and my relatives - from my grandmother to my cousins - are all excited.
It is obvious that the SEA Games is quite a big thing not just for my family, but for all Singaporeans.
SAHIL: My family and girlfriend have been very supportive and giving me advice. It just feels good to know that you have someone on your side.
No white flag from Aide
ON YOUR FEET: Young Lions’ Shakir Hamzah (No. 2) trying to console a devastated Adam Swandi after last night’s 2-1 loss to Warriors FC. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
COURTS YOUNG LIONS 1
(Adam Swandi 22)
WARRIORS FC 2
(Miroslav Pejic 71, 76)
They held possession well in the first half last night and even took the lead.
But, at the end, it was the same story for this year's Courts Young Lions - good in flashes, but just not good enough.
Aide Iskandar's boys fell 2-1 to S.League reigning champions Warriors FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium, a result that saw scorer Adam Swandi throw his face down onto the ground at full-time.
As they gear up for the SEA Games here in June, the team that make up the majority of the players for the football competition struggled to find any sort of rhythm and confidence.
Aide, though, is adamant he will not wave the white flag.
The 40-year-old said: "I'm not going to give up. The results have not been forthcoming, not what we've wanted.
"But it's important that we build confidence going into the SEA Games, important that we keep believing."
The Young Lions took the lead through Adam in the 22nd minute, but the Warriors condemned Aide's boys to their fifth defeat in six league games through a quick-fire double from Miroslav Pejic (71st and 76th).
The results see the Young Lions stay rooted to the bottom of the 10-team standings with just a solitary point - a 1-1 draw with Hougang United.
Aide hopes that centralised training next month - May 1-9 at the Singapore Sports School and 10-17 in Japan - will do his team a lot of good.
Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi are set to play key roles at the SEA Games, but they will be on duty with the LionsXII, if they can hang on to their 2-0 first-leg lead over Johor Darul Ta'zim II in the Malaysian FA Cup quarter-final tomorrow night. The two-legged semi-finals will be played over the weekend of May 9 and May 16, with the final, should they qualify, scheduled on May 23.
"I believe that (the LionsXII) will qualify for the semi-finals, and we are still waiting for a decision from the management on this," said Aide.
"It's very important that we get the team together in centralised training, where we can get them to eat together, and sleep together."
"I've been through this before, as national captain in 2004 (at the Tiger Cup), when we lost all the friendly games before the tournament," added the former national defender, of the tournament that saw the Lions go on to be crowned Asean champions.
"Many people wrote us off then. It's important that we get a win in our first (SEA Games match on May 29), then anything can happen."
Harimau Muda 2
Geylang Int’l 1