SINGAPORE - They may be able to book their tickets to Myanmar for the South-east Asia Games after beating reigning silver-medallists Indonesia Under-23s 1-0 last Saturday night.
But the Singapore Under-23s will have it all to do if they are to win any medals at the competition.
While they started well in front of 2,025 fans at Jalan Besar last night with some crisp passing, quick closing-down and incisive runs such as one by Faris Ramli that won them a 10th-minute penalty which Shahfiq Ghani tucked away, the Young Lions subsequently faded away and were at times overrun by a speedy Indonesian side.
They now know that Indonesia, who brought just 18 of their 65-player pool here, are formidable opponents, while a mostly under-23 Thailand side beat China 5-1 recently.
Add to the mix hosts Myanmar, defending champions Malaysia who are on a long training tour in Europe, as well as Vietnam, and Singapore Under-23s coach V Sundramoorthy knows his team have to improve between now and December to stand a chance to create SEA Games history.
WHAT WAS GOOD
THE New Paper understands that the 21-year-old is not in the upcoming national squad. But the in-form striker is definitely one of the brightest Under-23 prospects for Singapore.
Not only was his penalty unerringly buried into the corner, most of his set-pieces were also well delivered. His first touch and technique were outstanding and with five Malaysian Super League goals and another Under-23 goal last night, his confidence is sky-high.
A LOT has been said of Indonesia's pacy players such as Andik Vermansyah, but the fans were also thrilled by the direct and searing runs of Young Lions wingers Faris Ramli and Fazli Ayob, and later Nazrul Nazari and Gabriel Quak.
3. STRONG DEFENCE
INDONESIA Under-23s coach Rahmad Dharmawan said: "Singapore played effective football. "They are a strong team, especially in defence."
In their three friendly matches, the Young Lions conceded just once, in the 1-1 draw at Indonesia. Centre backs Safuwan Baharudin and Afiq Yunos have an understanding that goes way back to previous SEA Games and even when they do get beaten, there's a reliable Singapore No. 1 Izwan Mahbud, who kept out nine shots on target.
Also key was the Young Lions' tactical discipline in keeping their shape, such that there is always defensive cover.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED
1. ISOLATED ATTACK
WHEN the crosses came in, there was only Shahfiq, who is not a typical targetman, to aim for. More often than not, the long balls into the box did not find the intended target.
The Young Lions did try to build attacking plays on the ground, but there seemed to be a missing link between the midfielders and the striker in the 4-5-1 formation.
Surprisingly, there were also not a lot of overlapping runs made by fullbacks Shakir Hamzah and Faritz Abdul Hameed.
Perhaps dropping Shahfiq into the central attacking midfielder role in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Khairul Nizam as the targetman, could work better, but this option wasn't exercised last night.
2. MIDFIELD OVERRUN
SINGAPORE Under-23s captain Hariss Harun admitted the three-man central midfield consisting of Aqhari Abdullah, Izzdin Shafiq and him was "decent and not fantastic".
LionsXII assistant coach K Balagumaran said that Indonesia resembled Atletico Madrid in the way that their players kept interchanging positions.
And at times, the Young Lions looked like being overrun in the middle of the park even with three central midfielders, as Andik, Bayu Gatra Sanggiawan, Egi Melgiansyah and Hendro Siswanto combined to create waves and waves of attack.
Hariss defended his teammates, and said: "There were bits and pieces where we tried to get around them with one or two-touch passing.
"Indonesia are a good team, but despite all their possession, no goals came out of it.
"We did okay in the sense that we tried to keep things tight in the middle.
"But yes, we can definitely be more fluid in midfield and in attack. The good thing is we have the players to do it, and we will work on it."