A huge sigh of relief echoed round the Black Box auditorium at the Sports Hub during the South-east Asia (SEA) Games football draw yesterday, as hosts Singapore were handed a favourable draw.
The Young Lions were drawn into Group A along with Indonesia, while defending champions Thailand were in Group B with Malaysia.
Vietnam and Myanmar were in the next pot to be drawn and some members of the football fraternity couldn't help but cheer when ASEAN Football Federation secretary general Azzuddin Ahmad picked Vietnam for Group B, leaving Myanmar, widely believed to be the weaker side, in Singapore's group.
Cambodia and the Philippines are the other teams in Group A, while Laos, Brunei and Timor Leste complete Group B.
Singapore Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar said: "We are happy with the draw. Group B looks tougher but we cannot underestimate any opponents in our group.
ONE AT A TIME
"We will take one game at a time and we will be working very hard to make sure we win the first game. That's the most important game for us now."
The SEA Games football competition kicks off on May 29. The top two teams from each group will progress to the semi-finals.
The fixtures will be out by next week.
While the Young Lions won a bronze medal at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar and were close to making the Asian Games knock-out rounds last year, they have not produced a win this year, losing to Japan U-23 (8-1), Syria U-23 (2-1) and Cambodia U-22 (3-1).
However, there was a sense of optimism after the draw yesterday as questions were not about whether the national Under-23s will make it to the semi-finals but, rather, if they will top Group A.
Led by star midfielders Manahati Lestusen and Evan Dimas, Indonesia will provide the stiffest opposition despite internal strife in their football community, while Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines should be considered beatable opponents.
But Aide is not getting carried away.The 39-year-old said: "Complacency is our toughest opponent now, and I will be making sure our boys don't get complacent.
"In our group, the toughest opponents look like Indonesia and Myanmar, but we know in tournaments like this that the easier opponents could turn out to be the toughest to beat.
"We will try our best to top the group, but our immediate priority is to win the first game, to have a good start.
"The home support will inspire our players to do well in our group games.
"On their day, any team in this competition can beat any opponent. Over in Group B, I'm sure Thailand are not underestimating Laos and Timor Leste."
Singapore have never won a SEA Games football gold, and it has been 26 years since they last made the football final in the biennial competition.
The legendary Fandi Ahmad scored Singapore's only goal in that 1989 final which Malaysia won 3-1 and, this year, his eldest son Irfan will get a chance to go one better and create history.
The 17-year-old said: "As we have found out recently, Cambodia do have a strong team, so we will have to work as a team and give it our all in every match.
"Even though we did not have good results recently, we believe we can achieve a breakthrough at this tournament."
The home support will inspire our players to do well in our group games. - Singapore U-23 coach Aide Iskandar
This article was first published on Apr 16, 2015.
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