SEA Games: Singapore ready for Thailand

SEA Games: Singapore ready for Thailand

Their hope was to avoid a clash with the hosts. And while Singapore got what they wished for, Indonesia's shock qualification to the SEA Games football semi-final has left the Young Lions with perhaps the tougher route to the final.

Up next for Aide Iskandar's men are Thailand, whose spicy brand of football has served up eight goals in four games - including a 4-1 win over Indonesia. The Thais are sending a clear warning that they are ready to reclaim their throne.

The former kingpins of SEA Games football claimed top spot in Group B, despite a 0-0 draw against Cambodia yesterday.

Although the group results point to Thailand as the stronger opposition, Singapore coach Aide Iskandar said that there is not much separating the two sides.

"Thailand rested several key players who will be back and raring to go against us," Aide told The Straits Times last night.

"There's little between them and Indonesia - both are good teams with fast, attacking players, especially on the flanks."

Indonesia finished runners-up after a 1-0 win over Myanmar that sent shockwaves across the football-mad nation.

Aide had hoped to avoid the hosts, citing a fanatical home support and its potential to affect his young side and refereeing decisions. He got his wish, but will now have to contend with the 13-time Games champions, whose current side are built very much in the mould of coach Kiatisuk "Zico" Senamuang, the country's legendary striker who struck 70 times in 131 international games.

Rather than Singapore's patient, probing style, the more direct Thais burst with speed and skill to catch out defences as they re-group. "You give them one opening and, boom, they will kill you," noted Aide, who has been poring through videos and scouts' reports of their next opponents.

Kiatisuk's troops travel to Naypyidaw today to prepare for the clash at the Zayyathiri Stadium, where Singapore played their group matches.

The squad were assembled exactly one year ago in their bid for gold. Thailand won the title eight times in a row before they were eliminated in the first round in the two previous tournaments.

Kiatisuk, who coached several top-tier Thai clubs before taking on the post, has put his team through several training camps and glitzy friendlies against Barcelona and Liverpool.

In June, they thumped China's national side 5-1.

Besides captain and left-back Theerathon Bunmathan, Singapore have to keep an eye out for the silky duo of Thitipan Puangchan and Pokkhao Anan.

The central midfield pairing, who like to bomb forward, have accounted for four goals so far.

When they tyre, forward Chanathip Songkrasin, described by Aide as "Thailand's Lionel Messi", is brought on to do further damage.

Young Lions defender Afiq Yunos said: "They don't pass much but they have plenty of tricks to beat their marker. As much as we respect their attack, they also have to be worried about our backline (which has conceded just twice in four games)."

The match will be a reunion of sorts for both coaches.

Aide, 38, and Kiatisuk, 40, have waged many battles over the years on the field and will now do so with slightly greyer hair from the bench.

"I'm excited to meet him again - he's a truly humble chap and you can see his players want to give their all for him," said Aide who, like Kiatisuk, used to skipper his country and lifted three ASEAN Football Federation Cups.

In fact, when he told wife Ezreen that Thailand were their next opponents, she made a request. Laughing, Aide said: "The first thing she said was: 'Take a picture with your old buddy and send it to me.'"

Come Thursday, Singapore fans will be hoping that it will be Aide who will be wearing the bigger smile.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


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