Football: SEA Games is top priority

Football: SEA Games is top priority

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."

This article was first published on April 24, 2015.
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