Aide's 5 musketeers

Under-23 team head coach Aide Iskandar.

The challenge for them at the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games is demanding, to say the least: Try to win a first football gold for Singapore.

After a string of disappointments in recent months, most in this football-mad nation don't believe the Singapore team can pull it off.

But national Under-23 team head coach Aide Iskandar believes in his boys, and before the squad left for Japan yesterday for a week-long training camp, the former national skipper told The New Paper he has appointed five leaders to make sure squad morale remains high as they attempt to make history.

The five are goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari, defenders Al-Qaasimy Rahman and Shakir Hamzah, midfielder Safirul Sulaiman and striker Shahfiq Ghani.

Speaking on the sidelines of a special send-off for the team at Changi Airport's Terminal 2, Aide said: "They are the senior players in the team, and have the most experience. They've played for the Young Lions and LionsXII, and I know they can be leaders.

"During my time as a young player, Kadir (Yahaya), Fandi (Ahmad), David (Lee) and Malek (Awab) were the four main leaders of the team.

"They ensured the dressing room was happy, and that's what I want my five captains to do.

"Of course, in the course of preparing for a tournament like the SEA Games there will be a few unhappy moments, but the key is getting through those times together and emerging stronger as a unit."

Honoured by the additional role he has to play, Syazwan said: "It feels good to be among those coach Aide has given the responsibility and it shows he has a lot of trust in us."

The 22-year-old shot-stopper is said to be the most straight-laced player in the team.

"I'm the one who likes to keep things running," he said."Shakir and I are quite firm, and we will chide someone if he's not doing something right.

"Yeah, you could say I'm the most serious. But the only reason for that is I badly want us to do well."

Right back Al-Qaasimy, 23, is a leading contender for the skipper's armband.

"I'm not much of a guy who dictates as captain," he said. "I'm very easy-going, open, and maybe even soft-spoken. I listen to my teammates' views."

Safirul, meanwhile, appears to be the mediator.

"I always try to be the one who makes things calm," he said. "If there's a disagreement, I look at the positives and cool everyone down. That's in my character."

The 22-year-old scored a memorable goal against Thailand in the 2011 SEA Games but missed out on the 2013 tournament because of National Service, and is eager to make up for lost time.

"I just want to play the best I can because I missed a lot of football in 2013 and 2014," said Safirul. "To be able to try and do that, and also help lead this team, is a big honour for me."

Singapore have been drawn in Group A and will open their SEA Games campaign against the Philippines on June 1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium. They will also face Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia and the top two move into the semi-finals.

Much will depend on whether forward Shahfiq, 23, can deliver. His teammates rate him highly, and believe he is a leader.

"Shahfiq's a quiet guy and he leads by what he does on the pitch," said Syazwan.

Al-Qaasimy says Aide's choice of five leaders is a good one.

"I think the five of us make a good (leadership) team. In a way, Syazwan and Shakir are the bad cops, I'm the good cop.

"They make sure no one steps out of line, and I'm the one who will listen if the boys have issues, problems or want to give feedback."

msazali@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 11, 2015.
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