Tough Asiad draw, but U-23s looking to reach last 16
A tough assignment awaits the national Under-23 football team at next month's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
But they are quietly confident of finishing among the top two in Group C to make the Round of 16.
With Oman, Palestine and Tajikistan in their pool, Singapore have been drawn into the third-toughest group in the tournament.
Based on Fifa's Asian rankings for senior teams, the average rank of their group stands at 15.25.
Only Group G (12), which comprises the United Arab Emirates, India and Jordan and Group H (15), which consists of Iran, Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan have better averages.
It must be admitted though that the averages may not be a true reflection of the strength of the groups.
But winger Faris Ramli is looking on the bright side.
He said: "We managed to avoid the likes of giants like South Korea and Japan, so in that sense, we had a lucky draw.
"Oman are still very strong, and the fact that all three opponents in our group are Middle-East sides means it won't be easy.
"But we have played Oman earlier this year, and we beat Bahrain last month, so we know what to expect from these teams.
"If we can have a good period training together before the tournament, and believe in ourselves, we can repeat the performance we had against Bahrain."
However, defender Shakir Hamzah warned: "Most Middle-East teams have similar qualities.
"They're physical and fast and, even though in terms of technique or passing, they may not be as good as, say, Japan, they will still be tough opponents."
On Aug 5, the Under-23 team travelled to Manama, Bahrain to play the hosts in a last-gasp bid to convince the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) they deserved a ticket to Incheon, and ended up beating the reigning Gulf Cup champions 3-2.
The SNOC initially excluded the footballers from the list of athletes travelling to the Asiad, but changed their mind after this result.
Yesterday, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced that Bernd Stange, coach of the senior national team, will lead the U-23s in South Korea.
Aide Iskandar, who coaches the Courts Young Lions side that will form a significant portion of the Asian Games squad, will be Stange's assistant.
In the FAS release, Stange said: "Once again, I would like to thank the Singapore National Olympic Council for approving our selection for the Asian Games.
"This is a challenging draw, and Oman are the favourites to go through.
"Our players are raring to go after our training tour of Austria in July, and the win over Bahrain has also lifted their confidence.
"Taking part in a tournament like the Asian Games is important for the long-term development of our younger players.
"We aim to perform well in every game and, hopefully, do enough to progress to the next round."
Each team in the competition will be allowed to field three over-aged players.
FAS will announce Singapore's 25-man squad next week.
The U-23 team took part in the last two Asian Games in 2006 and 2010.
Both times, they got the green light after successful appeals to the SNOC, but exited at the first group stage.
South Korea, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Laos (average Asian rank 20)
Uzbekistan, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Afghanistan (22.5)
Oman, Palestine, Singapore, Tajikistan (15.25)
Japan, Kuwait, Iraq, Nepal (15.5)
Thailand, Maldives, Timor-Leste, Indonesia (31.25)
North Korea, China, Pakistan (23.7)
United Arab Emirates, India, Jordan (12)
Iran, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan (15)