SINGAPORE - The Young Lions and defending champions Harimau Muda have been caged up in Group A alongside Vietnam, Laos, Brunei in the South-east Asia (SEA) Games football draw held in Myanmar yesterday.
The Philippines could be the sixth team in Singapore's group for the men's Under-23 football competition that kicks off on Dec 2.
Hosts Myanmar were drawn in Group B with Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Timor Leste.
Winger Gabriel Quak says it will be unthinkable if the Young Lions fail to finish among the top two and make the semi-finals of the biennial tournament which begins in Myanmar next month.
He told The New Paper yesterday: "The minimum must be the semi-finals. Anything less than that should be considered a failure.
"It's good we avoided hosts Myanmar and strong teams like Thailand and Indonesia.
"We know what to expect from our opponents since we have played Malaysia and Laos recently, and we have been playing Brunei as we came through the age groups.
"We are quietly confident."
There was some drama yesterday at the draw involving the Philippines.
They were included as bottom seeds and drawn in Group A with the likes of Singapore.
But the country has previously said it will not send a football team for the SEA Games, and when contacted yesterday, Dan Palami, chairman of the Philippines national teams committee, told The New Paper: "I was surprised to hear we were in the draw.
"Our national Olympic committee, which accredits athletes for the SEA Games, has not included us in the roster.
"The team are ready and we want to compete, but as far as I'm concerned, we has not been given the go signal and have already cancelled two training tours to Japan and the Gulf region."
Whether or not the Philippines play, the Young Lions are only focused on their target.
Peppered with players from this year's Malaysian Super League-winning LionsXII side, the Football Association of Singapore has challenged the U-23s to make the final on Dec 23.
Singapore have never won the SEA Games football gold, collecting three silver medals and six bronzes since the event's inception as the Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games in 1959.
The U-23s were drawn in the Group of Death in 2011 with champions Malaysia, powerhouses Thailand and hosts Indonesia and failed to progress to the last four.
Traditionally, goals have been Singapore's biggest problem. Two years ago, the side netted just four times in four group games and failed to make the semi-finals.
But midfield star and captain Hariss Harun is optimistic.
Said the 22-year-old: "We have a good group of players with a positive attitude, anyone can score through set-pieces or open play."
In a potentially explosive encounter, the Causeway rivals will clash on Dec 10 in what could be the final Group A game, depending on The Philippines' participation, held at the Zayar Thiri Stadium in Naypyidaw.
Singapore coach Aide Iskandar acknowledged the importance of the fixture, both in terms of tradition and timing, but insisted the top priority is to get three points in the opening match against Laos.
The 38-year-old, who won a SEA Games bronze medal in Chiangmai 1995, said: "Things are quite even in both groups.
"On paper, it looks like it is up to Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam to fight for the two semi-final spots in our group, but we cannot take Laos and Brunei lightly.
"Laos have improved a lot over the years and with Mike Wong (a Singapore coach) being Brunei's technical director, they will have good knowledge about Singapore.
"A lot could be at stake when we face Malaysia, but it is more important we get our campaign off to a good start against Laos."
To prepare for the Games, the Young Lions have lined up two friendlies, including one against Cambodia on Nov 24.
National Football Academy coach Robin Chitrakar has also been dispatched to Cambodia to watch the U-23s from Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos, who are taking part in a six-team friendly tournament.
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