SEA Games Football: No hunger, no hope

SEA Games Football: No hunger, no hope
IMMORTALITY COULD BE YOURS: Singapore’s Under-23 side, led by coach Aide Iskandar (in light blue), can create history by winning the Republic’s first SEA Games football gold.

The target is to secure at least a spot in the SEA Games final on June 15 at the new National Stadium, although the Singapore Under-23 side believe they can even win a historic gold.

That feat has eluded Singapore in every edition of the Games.

The last time it was held on home soil in 1993, before it became an Under-23 affair, the Lions suffered the agony of a penalty shoot-out defeat by Myanmar in the semi-finals, after a 3-3 draw.

Steven Tan scored a dramatic equaliser when all seemed lost, after two own goals by Lim Tong Hai, and Razali Saad missed the crucial penalty.

Here, Steven, Razali and "The Dazzler" V Sundramoorthy offer Aide Iskandar's team some advice ahead of next month's SEA Games.

All three of you played in Singapore's 1993 SEA Games semi-final loss to Myanmar. What memories linger from that game?

RAZALI: Oh yes, I remember that penalty till today and, with the SEA Games being hosted in Singapore again, it brings back bad memories.

We wanted it so much, and we knew that it was there for the taking, but that simple, simple error cost us.

STEVEN: We really had the crowd behind us and, if we had got into the final, I'm sure we'd have had a good chance.

For a few of us, it was our first Games.

We were nervous and felt the pressure, but we had good players around like Sundram, Fandi and our captain Razali, who really took the pressure off us.

I remember we were leading 2-0 and coasting, then a lapse in concentration and we were down 3-2. Then I scored that equaliser.

SUNDRAM: We had a great team and were expected to at least make the final, but we were unlucky, no one more than Tong Hai.

He was young, playing in his first Games and, for me, he tried his best.

Overall, the team did well and we deserved more but, in football, you can really expect anything.

Football at the SEA Games is now is an Under-23 affair. With all the players being young, what impact can that have on Aide's team, after their string of poor results in the build-up?

STEVEN: Luckily for me, as a young player, I had seniors to look up to, especially when things got bad.

The question with this team is: Who's going to lead them, who is going to call the shots? There's no leader in the team now, everyone's doing his own thing.

And the other big question is: Are they hungry enough?

In our team back then, the trust was there in every player and that was important. The problem with the 2015 team is that they're struggling to score goals... we have to work very hard on that.

RAZALI: In the '93 squad, I didn't have to worry whether Sundram or Fandi would score, because we had reserves on the bench who were ready to do so.

Even midfielders and defenders were capable of scoring. Look at Steven, he (was known as) the Supersub, he comes on, we give him the ball, something will happen.

Kadir Yahaya has been brought in to help Aide Iskandar's team, and many are already touting the Kadir effect as something that could swing things in Singapore's favour. What are your thoughts?

SUNDRAM: I think Kadir can help, but it's important that he gets support for what he wants to do, that's the key factor.

He knows his stuff, but the question is: Is it too late? He can help but he joined with less than two months before the competition. I think what we've done in the last two years will come back to haunt us.

STEVEN: I think it is too short a time for Kadir, he should have come in a year before. In the end, Aide calls the shots. Kadir can make changes, but who will the players listen to?

RAZALI: Kadir needs support from the management. The players must also accept him. They've been together for years, and used to their routines.

And for Kadir to come in, with his rules and what he wants the boys to do, the players must be professional enough to listen and follow because Kadir has experience with competitions like these, taking the YOG (Youth Olympic Games) team.

His changes must be followed. It's up to the players now and, as Steven said, the hunger is not there.

Despite what's gone on, can homeground advantage spur this team on to big things?

STEVEN: To attract the fans, we must build up the culture of football again, entertain them, win their trust with how we play football.

Despite us (the team in the Malaysian League) going down to Division 2 in 1993, the fans still supported us because they knew we worked hard and we gave 100 per cent in every game. That's why they showed up at the SEA Games to support us.

The media also plays an important part, like building up the profiles of players.

We took a lot of criticism, too, and we deserved it sometimes, but we took criticism as motivation to prove our doubters wrong - and that helped.

Now players have one good game, get big-headed, then play three bad ones.

SUNDRAM: I played in two SEA Games in Singapore, first in 1983 when we lost in the final to Thailand, then in 1993.

The support was really great and it made such a difference when you stepped out onto the field.

Playing in a packed stadium and scoring goals, like I did in the group stages in '93 - those were moments I really cherished.

From your experiences with previous SEA Games, what are the critical elements that this team need to make history?

RAZALI: If I have to come back to one single most important thing, it has to be motivation.

It's not about results at this point - it's about attitude. The players must believe in themselves that they can do it.

SUNDRAM: These boys can make history, now they have a month left to the Games. They must take good care of themselves and work hard for the gold.

RAZALI: That's right, they must start to eat, sleep and think about the gold.

This team may have been together for three to four years as the Courts Young Lions, but it'll all come down to matchday. They must psych each other up and, if they do manage it, nobody will remember us any more.

No team in the '60s, the '70s, even teams that went all the way in the Malaysia Cup then, managed to win gold.

This is their moment - if they can win the gold medal, it will get the whole country behind them and that'll be great for Singapore football.

STEVEN: I really hope the boys can take the pressure. They have to believe that they are good enough and don't worry about opponents because, if you work hard, luck will come.

Final word, then... can we win gold?

RAZALI: We must get the gold. The senior boys will be too old to play after these Games. We'll have to build another team for the next Games, and that's going to be tough.

They must grab this moment to bring football back to life in Singapore.

SUNDRAM: Firstly, the players must believe in themselves, it's not impossible to win the gold medal.

We're playing on home ground with the support of the whole nation. It's really about lifting themselves and doing their best.

STEVEN: That hunger, it cannot be taught, but the players must realise that this is their moment and they must live in the moment. There's no point regretting later if they don't fight for it now.

 


This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
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