Four Young Lions to look out for
Singapore quartet set to shine as Faris and Sahil look to strike tonight
PHILIPPINES v SINGAPORE
(Tonight, 8.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium, Singtel TV Ch 134, MediaCorp okto & Toggle Ch 2)
No. 10 and No. 7.
Singapore fans at the sold-out Jalan Besar Stadium tonight will seek out the two jersey numbers of the Singapore Under-23s' biggest names, as the hosts begin their South-east Asia (SEA) Games football campaign against the Philippines.
They will hope Sahil Suhaimi, the gifted striker with the No. 7 on his back, can deliver the goals and spark a rousing start for Aide Iskandar's team, as they dream of gold.
They will want to see flying winger, No. 10 Faris Ramli, terrorise defenders with his pace and trickery and also play the role of match-winner for the team.
The two senior players - already headliners after their exploits with the LionsXII in the Malaysian FA Cup - will be relied upon to lead the Young Lions from the front, but there is also a quartet of youngsters who could well take that first step to stardom tonight.
For Adam Swandi, M Anumanthan, Amirul Adli and Irfan Fandi, the 28th SEA Games on home soil is the perfect stage to break out into the big time.
They are the youngest players in the 20-man squad, and at least three of the four are likely to start against the Philippines.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Aide said: "The young players are as ready as anyone else - we've taken steps to ensure that.
"The senior players are also doing their bit by talking to them and making them feel comfortable. It's natural that they feel nervous and have butterflies in the stomach before the game.
"But I've told them: After that, settle down, have fun and remember why we're doing this."
Anu, 20, and Amirul, 19, should start as the team's central-defensive partnership, while Adam Swandi, 19, is favourite to operate in the engine room as a box-to-box midfielder.
The 1.89-metre tall Irfan, 17, has been scoring for fun in recent friendly matches and could be a weapon off the bench, though he could grow into the tournament as it progresses.
Thailand's SEA Games squad comprise half the team from the 2013 Games in Myanmar, where they won the gold medal.
Young, but hardly short of experience, they are hot favourites to retain gold here.
A number of players in the Thai U-23 squad have international caps to their name, with Chanatip Songkrasin, or "Messi Jay" as he is affectionately known, already a big star at home.
The Young Lions can be a powerful team of the future as well, with 10 of Aide's squad eligible for the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
To be in that position, though, they have to do well at these Games, starting tonight.
"We want a good conveyor belt of talent, so that Singapore football can progress," said Aide. "Players like Adam, Irfan, Anu and Amirul need to take over the baton from the rest.
"At the next SEA Games, they will be the main men. And we must get them ready for 2017 now."
A win against the Philippines is crucial to build confidence and spark belief, especially in a young squad.
Adam, Irfan, Anu and Amirul are young, but that old adage "if you're good enough, you're old enough" rings true for Aide.
Irfan is as raw as they come, having never before played in a major tournament.
The striker goes into the tournament with the added baggage of being Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad's eldest son.
Anu has the potential to be a midfield rock but, for this tournament, he will transfer his strength and tackling attributes to central defence. If he finally shows off his credentials, the Young Lions will be very hard to beat.
Amirul has already been identified as a centre back for the future - after national coach Bernd Stange picked him for last year's Suzuki Cup campaign.
Having played in front of a big crowd at the National Stadium, his composure will be vital.
Perhaps the most exciting among the four is playmaker Adam, who three years ago set pulses racing in the Lion City Cup.
After a difficult year with FC Metz in France, the once-scrawny Adam has grown physically and matured with his decision-making on the ball.
If he gets into his stride, he could steal the show at this SEA Games.
The dream is of a first football gold for Singapore, the mission starts tonight, and if this is to be the year, the four youngest members of the Singapore U-23s will almost certainly have to shine.
Aide has a sneaky feeling they will.
"As I've said before, one of them could be a rising star from these Games."
Tickets for the match between Philippines v Singapore at the Jalan besar stadium are sold out. To avoid congestion, fans are advised to arrive at the venue early for security screenings.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Under-23s of Singapore and the Philippines have met only once before, in June 2013. The Young Lions won 1-0.
- SINGAPORE’S PROBABLE LINE-UP: Syazwan Buhari, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Amirul Adli, M Anumanthan, Shakir Hamzah, Safirul Sulaiman, Adam Swandi, Faris Ramli, Amy Recha, Shahfiq Ghani, Sahil Suhaimi