Looking pale, tired and visibly slimmer, Singapore Under-23 football coach Aide Iskandar did not take to the Jalan Besar Stadium pitch last night as his team went through their paces, with the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games looming.
Quite understandably, his assistants S Subramani and Kadir Yahaya led the training as Aide had been discharged from hospital only last Wednesday after battling dengue fever for a week.
The 39-year-old's fever measured 39.9 deg C at its highest and, in the end, the former Singapore captain and defender lost 6kg.
There was one piece of good news for Aide as he laid on his hospital bed, when his Courts Young Lions side beat Home United 1-0 last Tuesday, posting their first win in the S.League.
"I was monitoring the live score, and I was so happy for the boys," said Aide, recalling the moment when he spoke to The New Paper last night.
"After all the hard work they have put in, it was a timely win. This will give the boys confidence and this can be the start of many positive results."
Most of the Courts Young Lions players will be in the Under-23 squad that will do battle at this year's SEA Games, which will be held on home soil from June 5 to 16.
The Under-23 football tournament kicks off on May 29, with Singapore opening their Group A campaign on June 1 against the Philippines.
All group-stage matches will be held at Bishan Stadium and Jalan Besar Stadium (the hosts will only play at Jalan Besar), with the semi-finals and final to be held at the National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub.
A 25-man squad have been undergoing centralised training since May 1, and will head to Japan on Sunday for a week-long stint where they will play two friendlies against Under-23 sides.
Aide will name the final 20-man squad upon their return, and he said: "We will bring 25 players (to Japan) and this gives us an opportunity to assess players like Faris Ramli and Ho Wai Loon, who have not been with us.
"We will work on cohesiveness in match situations and get the team in sync before we come back and play in two more friendlies against ASEAN opponents from the other SEA Games group."
Aide has been pleased with both the camaraderie within the coaching set-up, as well as the enthusiasm of his players.
He said: "I already know 80 per cent of the 20-man squad I will select but the players know they can't be complacent.
"I like what our former national coach Raddy (Avramovic) used to say, 'Players pick themselves by their performances'. And I have a good headache because the players are giving their all.
"For example, we have a GPS system that tracks their performance, and they are all very concerned about their distance covered, and whether they have made enough runs in the right areas."
After a raft of poor results this year, few are giving the Young Lions a chance of making the final, let alone becoming the first Singapore side to win the football gold at the SEA Games.
With less than 30 days to go before their opening match, the coaching triumvirate of Aide, Mani and Kadir - they played together at the 1997 and 1999 SEA Games - will be asking more and more of their players.
Said Kadir: "Every major tournament breeds new stars. The World Cup turned Paul Pogba and James Rodriguez into stars.
"The Suzuki Cup was a stage for Thailand's Charyl Chappuis and Chanathip Songkrasin. Similarly, the SEA Games will be an opportunity for our boys to make themselves football icons for years to come.
"No other sport can bring 55,000 together and, while Jalan Besar will be a good, compact stadium for the fans to get behind us, we must get to the National Stadium for the semi-finals and final.
"Our players must realise the SEA Games is the perfect opportunity for them to make a name for themselves and create a piece of history which not even their coaches could manage."
This article was first published on May 5, 2015.
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