They came, they saw, they almost conquered.
And now, Ong Kim Swee's Harimau Muda "A" team that managed a top-four finish in their debut season here in 2012 will be back in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
Malaysian media reported last Friday that the "A" Team, which comprises the top Under-23 players from Malaysia, will return to the S.League next season after two years away.
Confirming this with The New Paper, Ong said, "I will be flying to Singapore soon to discuss a few things with (S.League) officials about next season, because there are so many things going on next year.
"There's the SEA Games, AFC Under-22 qualifiers, and so on.
"I hope we get to play our home games at Yishun Stadium again, like in 2012, and if we can't, we have to come up with alternatives.
"These are all things I have to discuss with people in Singapore first."
The return of the "A" Team is a boost to the S.League.
They competed in the league in 2012, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the football associations of Malaysia and Singapore.
Ong's charges impressed with their swashbuckling brand of attacking football and were in the running for the title until the last four games of the season, eventually finishing fourth.
However, the former Malacca midfielder pulled his team out of the 2013 season so that they could prepare for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Myanmar at the end of that year.
The team subsequently went on training camps in several European countries. Harimau Muda B, Malaysia's national Under-21 team, took their place in the S.League instead.
But Ong's side failed to defend the SEA Games gold medal Malaysia had won in 2009 and 2011, eventually losing to Singapore in the play-off for third.
This year, the "A" Team spent six-months in Australia playing against Queensland National Premier League teams as preparation for the Incheon Asian Games, but they didn't shine at the Asiad.
They were knocked out at the group stage, beating Laos 4-0 but suffering 3-0 defeats at the hands of South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Criticism is mounting on Ong, and he admitted the last two years have not been easy.
While he said next June's SEA Games in Singapore will be his last, he is looking forward to the S.League test.
He said, "More than half our players will be different (as compared to 2012). So, it's a new challenge, and a difficult one because our team is young, but it's one I'm looking forward to.
"If I had a choice, of course, I would go far away again, but I understand it's not cheap to train overseas and Singapore is ideal because it's so close.
"In terms of exposure for our boys, it's very, very good for us to play in the S.League again because we get to taste that competitiveness again."
This article was first published on October 7, 2014.
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