Last-ditch bid for Asiad ticket

Last-ditch bid for Asiad ticket
Sahil Suhaimi, Courts Young Lions striker.

It was the last throw of the dice for Singapore's Under-23 footballers, their final shot at impressing selectors as they bid to qualify for next month's Asian Games - and they did not disappoint.

Yesterday, at the Al Ahli Stadium in Manama, they beat Bahrain's U-23 side 3-2 in a friendly match specially arranged to boost their hopes of making it to the Asiad in Incheon, South Korea.

A brace from Courts Young Lions striker Sahil Suhaimi and a Bahrain own goal consigned the hosts, who also had a player sent off in the 52nd minute, to defeat.

Said national head coach Bernd Stange who led the team for this fixture: "We came here to do a job and we did it. This was a very good result for us.

"The players played with discipline and commitment although we lacked the creativity to go to the next level."

The German hopes the team can get the nod from the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) who had set a qualification benchmark of meeting the sixth-best result at the previous Asiad for all athletes.

The deadline for appeals closed last Friday but the Football Association of Singapore will still submit the U-23s' recent results - including this win - to the SNOC.

Like Singapore, Bahrain finished bottom of their group at the 2010 Asian Games with one point. They are ranked 105th in the world and 14th in the region.

Last year, they won the U-23 Gulf Cup of Nations.

Stange said: "We couldn't secure matches against the top six countries in Asia.

"(Bahrain) narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups at the final play-off stage.

"It also qualified for next year's Asian Cup.

"It has pedigree."

Stange added that the Asian Games football tournament, which could see the team lock horns with regional powerhouses Japan and South Korea, will help his charges prepare for the Nov 22-Dec 20 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup, as well as "take Singapore football to the next level".

Defending champions and co-hosts Singapore are drawn with Malaysia, three-time winners Thailand and the victors of a qualifying tournament, who could turn out to be Myanmar, now led by ex-Lions coach Raddy Avramovic.

Defender Baihakki Khaizan, one of four senior players who travelled to Bahrain, believes the team are already reaping the benefits of last month's training camp in Austria, and are on track to retain the Suzuki Cup.

He said: "The Austrian stint certainly helped. Against Bahrain, we played at a higher intensity, we hit our passes harder and kept the ball well.

"We were more organised and controlled the game, attacking and defending at the right time."

He added: "The boys have a bright future. The Asian Games will allow them to play against the powerhouses and get big-game experience.

"They need these type of games to help them bloom."

Team-mate Safuwan Baharudin said: "Playing high quality teams will help us in preparation for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

"The Asian Games has top players and top teams, and it is a major step up for us."

This article was published on Aug 7 in The Straits Times.

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