Tune-up time for Fandi Ahmad's Singapore Under-22s
Singapore to host Merlion Cup, an U-22 tourney, next month
A mini South-east Asian football tournament will take place at the Jalan Besar Stadium next month as part of the Singapore Under-22 team's preparation for the year-end SEA Games.
The quadrangular will be called the Merlion Cup, which was last contested in 2009 between Liverpool and a Team Singapore side.
In yesterday's tournament draw at the Football Association of Singapore's Jalan Besar headquarters, Singapore were picked to meet the Philippines in the first round, while Thailand were paired with Indonesia.
The winners will then play in the final - where a gleaming 20kg trophy awaits the champions- while the losers face off in the third-place play-off.
The invited teams are expected to send their SEA Games squads and Young Lions coach Fandi Ahmad is excited that his fledglings will gain vital exposure before the Nov 30-Dec 11 Games in the Philippines.
"Football needs to be revitalised in Singapore and the Merlion Cup will be a good opportunity to expose the young players to international football," said Fandi, who had played in the 1992 and 1983 editions of the Merlion Cup.
"We need to play strong matches before the SEA Games. We'll also have two more international friendlies in September and two in October, as well as a training camp before we depart for Philippines."
His overseas-based sons, Irfan and Ikhsan, will be in the Merlion Cup squad as the tournament falls within the Fifa international match window.
Irfan, 21, plies his trade with Thai second-tier side BG Pathum United, while Ikhsan, 20, is with Norwegian second-division team Raufoss IL.
However, Ikhsan, who scored his first competitive goal for Raufoss on Sunday, will have limited time to rest and acclimatise as he still has to play for his club on June 3.
Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand all had creditable showings at the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship qualifiers two months ago.
Fandi's boys failed to advance in Group G, but finished second with one win and two draws.
Thailand (two wins, one loss) and Indonesia (one win, two losses) finished second and third respectively in Group K, which was won by Vietnam.
The Philippines, meanwhile, finished bottom of Group J after losing all three matches.
Young Lions defender Lionel Tan, 21, is confident his team will perform at the Merlion Cup. He said: "The teams we are playing are strong, but we must not be afraid of them. We must play to the coach's plan and play with pride."
The Merlion Cup will be an U-22 event, but two senior Lions are set to feature at the SEA Games, following a change in ruling.
Fandi revealed that the coaching staff are considering the fitness and commitment of four senior players ahead of the Games.
He said: "We have identified four (senior) players. At the moment, we've spoken to only two... We'll decide when they ask us for the last 30 names."
- Thailand v Indonesia (4.30pm)
- Singapore v Philippines (7.30pm)
- 3rd/4th placing (4.30pm)
- Final ( 7.30pm)
WHERE: Jalan Besar Stadium