Singapore's national Under-23 side have been to two training stints in Turkey and another in Austria, alongside the senior national team, all with a view to winning a first-ever gold medal at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games here in June.
All that preparation showed for little as Aide Iskandar's charges were beaten 3-1 by Cambodia's Under-22 side in an international friendly at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
Facing a hastily assembled Cambodia side who arrived only at 10pm on Wednesday, the Republic's U-23s looked complacent, placid and bereft of ideas out on the pitch.
And the fans made their thoughts known by calling for the sacking of the SEA Games coach.
"I have to apologise to the fans, but no excuses, we were a bit complacent...and we were punished," said a grim Aide after witnessing his side throw away an early lead.
After a bright start that saw Sahil Suhaimi score in the second minute, the Singapore side went to sleep, and the visitors took full advantage.
HARSHLY SENT OFF
Phanny Y Ratha levelled the scores just a minute before half-time, robbing Singapore captain Shakir Hamzah of the ball before slotting home.
Shakir was harshly sent off for what looked like a legitimate tackle inside his penalty box in the 68th minute, with Prak Mony Udom scoring with the resultant spot-kick.
Four minutes later, Sam Oeun Pidor rubbed salt into Singapore's wounds with the third goal of the game.
Things got worse for Aide's charges, as central defender Sheikh Abdul Hadi received his marching orders near the end of the game, after an altercation inside the Cambodia penalty box.
"I take responsibility for the defeat, but we have to give credit to Cambodia, they came with a game plan and it worked," said Aide. "Thankfully, we're still in the preparatory stage, it's back to the drawing board for us."
While he asserted that making mistakes at this stage of preparation is better than committing errors during the tournament proper, fans in the stands seemed to have lost patience with the former Singapore skipper whose team have yet to register a win in 2015.
Some in the stands screamed for the sacking of the SEA Games coach, even calling him out for hiding from the reality of a team they believe will not come close to the gold-medal target.
"It's only two months to the SEA Games, we need to press the panic button now. This is Cambodia U-22, this is not a German or Turkish club that they played during their tours. We can accept
those defeats but not this," said 35-year-old Ahmad, who watches this team - in the form of the Courts Young Lions - in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
"To be fair, the red card (to Shakir Hamzah) made things difficult but, even before that happened, we were terrible."
Another fan, 70-year-old Alan Lim, shared similar sentiments, saying: "I've been watching football since the days of Awang Bakar, this is terribly disappointing. Aide has to go, he's got no ideas."
"The fans have every right to shout, but they've got to know that this isn't the real tournament, that starts on May 27," Aide said in response to those baying for his blood.
"We are working very hard for the SEA Games, and we need patience from the fans and the media."
This article was first published on March 20, 2015.
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