Full support for SEA Games football squad, says FAS chief
FAS chief Zainudin promises U-23 coach Aide full support for gold-medal assault
Unequivocal support for the SEA Games football team.
National Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar will get all the players at his disposal as the football team go for gold at June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil.
That's the assurance given by Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin yesterday.
The Young Lions will face Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines in Group A of the football competition, which kicks off on May 29.
The Games proper will start on June 5, with the closing ceremony coming a day after the June 15 football final.
It is still not known who Singapore will face in their opening match but the FAS will give Aide all the support he needs, including the availability of players.
"The SEA Games is our No. 1 priority," Zainudin told The New Paper yesterday.
The focus of the FAS came into question following Shakir Hamzah joining Fandi Ahmad's LionsXII squad that travelled to face Johor Darul Ta'zim II (JDT II) in the second leg of the Malaysian FA Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.
The LionsXII won that match 2-0 and, for the first time since its 2012 inception, qualified for the semi-finals of the Malaysian FA Cup with a 4-0 aggregate win.
The two-legged semi-finals will be played on two consecutive weekends on May 9 and May 16.
Shakir, 22, was part of Aide's Courts Young Lions team that play in the S.League. Most of the U-23 players for Singapore's SEA Games team come from the Young Lions.
But, with him joining three other U-23 players - Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi and Christopher van Huizen - in Fandi's LionsXII, it raised doubts if the quartet would be available for the final phase of preparations for the SEA Games squad.
The Singapore U-23s are poised to enter centralised training from next month - May 1-9 at the Singapore Sports School and May 10-17 in Japan.
Zainudin confirmed that Aide will have all his players for what will be a critical phase in the team's build-up to the SEA Games.
When asked if the LionsXII's quest for a first-ever appearance in the FA Cup final will be backed by the inclusion of the four U-23 players, the football chief was unequivocal in his reply: "No. SEA Games, SEA Games, SEA Games, everything is about the SEA Games now."
National coach Bernd Stange will line up for his first World Cup qualifiers as coach of the senior Lions, who have been placed in Group E, along with Japan, Syria, Afghanistan and Cambodia.
Their opening two games fall during the SEA Games - away to Cambodia on June 11, and at home against Japan on June 16.
While the FAS is understood to be asking either for a postponement of the Japan fixture that clashes with the SEA Games closing ceremony, or to play away on that date instead, Zainudin clarified that Stange will not be taking any players included in the SEA Games squad.
Aide is buoyed by the president's declaration.
Speaking after his team's hour-long training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday, he said: "We don't have much time left and, when Zai says that, it's definitely a boost to the team. It's important to have all players in the final phase of preparation."
"SEA Games, SEA Games, SEA Games, everything is about the SEA Games now."
- FAS president Zainudin Nordin
THE FOOTBALL DRAW
- Group A: Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines.
- Group B: Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei, Timor Leste.
* Top two in each group advance to the semi-finals.
AL-QAASIMY'S RALLYING CRY: WE WON'T LET OUR HEADS DROP
"Some of the younger players may not know just how important this SEA Games is, so that is why as senior players, we need to talk to them, to help them understand that this is big." - U-23 captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman (above)
Nothing has gone their way in 2015.
But the Young Lions - effectively the national Under-23 team - are determined to dispel the dark clouds that have been hovering above them when the SEA Games football competition starts on May 29.
Shakir Hamzah, who made the trip up to Johor with Fandi Ahmad's LionsXII with the aim of playing against Johor Darul Ta'zim II in Wednesday's 2-0 second-leg win in the quarter-finals of the Malaysian FA Cup, returned to train with the Young Lions yesterday.
"Personally, I will put everything aside, to concentrate on the SEA Games," the defender told The New Paper yesterday.
"I don't know if I'm registered to play with the LionsXII but, for me, once I step onto the pitch, I leave everything outside. Whenever I play, I will give 100 per cent."
It is the same kind of attitude that captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman has started to inculcate in his team.
"Of course, we're disappointed with our results this year," said the 23-year-old of their five draws and solitary loss in the S.League this year.
"The seniors in the team, including Shahfiq Ghani, Shakir and I have had private sessions with the boys, talking about how we don't want these things to affect us at the SEA Games.
"We have to show our potential when the SEA Games start. We can't let our heads drop before then."
The Games football tourney kicks off on May 29, with the final on June 15. The Games proper run from June 5-16.
Acknowledging the negativity surrounding Singapore football, with no wins secured by any national side this year - from the senior Lions down through to all the age-group sides - Al-Qaasimy is aware of the added importance of achieving success at the Games.
"This is not just another SEA Games, we know that, it's our home Games. And what makes this even more important is that no Singapore team have won (any match) this year," said the fullback.
"We want to redeem ourselves, as players, and also redeem ourselves with the fans who are very important to us."
The work has already started, and Al-Qaasimy asserts that they will continue to slog to gain every possible inch.
"We've been working on how to improve day in, day out. I don't know how fast we're improving, but I'm sure we are," he said.
"We know how important this SEA Games is, we want to make history by winning (Singapore's first-ever) gold, and we want to win the fans back."
PHOTO: TNP FILE
Retired discus legend James Wong (above) was 42 when he won the last of his nine successive SEA Games discus gold medal in 2011.
With another gold in the hammer event in Manila 1997, the giant has a total of 10 gold medals.
Sportsman of the Year in 2004, Wong's first SEA Games was Jakarta 1987, when he won a discus bronze, but it wasn't until 1993 before he won his first gold, on home soil.
In Bandar Seri Begawan in 1999, he set the national and SEA Games discus record of 59.50m, which still stands today.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF SINGSOC
In celebration of its 42 years of serving the community through sport as well as to mark 42 days to the official opening of the 28th SEA Games, more than 300 Sport Singapore (SportSG) staff gathered in front of Stadium Roar to form the number 42.
Significantly, this year also marks 42 years since Singapore hosted the first SEAP Games in 1973.
SportSG also launched the 42 Challenge, with the target to raise $42,000 for SportCares, the philanthropic foundation that uses sport to reach out to youngsters in need through quality sport programmes and life-skills workshops.