Hosts Singapore's opening South-east Asia (SEA) Games match against the Philippines is going to be a cracker, according to Marlon Maro.
Coach Maro (inset) has set high hopes for his Philippine team, who will meet the Young Lions at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Monday.
"We expect to finish in the top four," the 49-year-old said.
"We are a young team, but we are confident we can do well."
His team will have to at least avoid defeat against the Young Lions to have a chance of finishing in the top two in Group A and qualify for the semi-finals.
They will also need to get results against their other Group A opponents Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia.
On the training ground at the Serangoon Stadium yesterday, the newly appointed coach was all business.
Training started immediately after the 20-man squad arrived, with Maro barking orders throughout the 90-minute session.
But he kept his cards close to his chest, when asked what the reason behind his confidence was.
Maro, who has seen the Young Lions play several times, said his focus is on how his team will set up against them.
"It is how we respond that is important," he said.
The Azkals, as they are also called, will have it all to do.
With the second round of World Cup qualifiers set to clash with the SEA Games, some of the Under-23 teams have had to adjust their squads to juggle between the clashing schedules.
But, despite losing eight players to the senior team, who meet Bahrain on June 11, Maro is unfazed.
He has faith in his young side, most of whom were Philippine-born and have come up through the collegiate ranks.
Although many of them are still attached to their colleges and universities, there is no lack of experience, Maro said.
Many of them play in the Filipino national league.
Defender Shirmar Felongco, for instance, turns out for Stallion FC, who are currently second in the league.
Goalkeeper Jun Badelic and forward Paolo Salenga are with reigning champions Global FC, who defeated Hougang United 2-1 after extra time in the preliminary round of the RHB Singapore Cup yesterday.
And although Maro has no easy task himself, he had some sympathy for his opposite number Aide Iskandar.
"It is a double-edged sword to be playing on home turf," he said.
"There is pressure on (Singapore) to perform well, but the positive is the fans' support."
He added: "We have some supporters here as well, which is good."
This article was first published on May 28, 2015.
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