Football: Look forward, not back

Much has been made of the national Under-22 football team's obstacles as they prepare for the AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers that kick off on Friday.

Richard Bok's team have only seven days to gel, as his full 24-man squad only got together three days ago after the U-23 team - who are preparing for June's South- east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil - played a friendly against the Cambodia U-22 team.

A significant portion of the U-23 team make up Bok's U-22s.

On top of the short training time, there had been intense speculation earlier this month that the three-time S.League Coach of the Year had been relieved of his duties, only to be reinstated.

As his team prepare to face the Cambodian side who stunned Aide Iskandar's SEA Games team 3-1 on Thursday, Bok said he was keen to put the all the negativity behind him.

"Of course, our preparation could have been better, but I'll take it in my stride and work as hard as possible," said the 45-year-old, before a training session at the Jurong West Stadium yesterday evening.

"I'll do my best to prepare the team with whatever little time we have. I want to build a team that can compete in Laos."

Singapore have been drawn in Group J together with Asian giants China and continental minnows Mongolia and Laos, who will host the events in the city of Vientiene.

Group winners and the five best second-placed sides from the 10 qualifying groups advance to the AFC U-23 Championships in Qatar next January.

Bok's team will leave Singapore on Wednesday.

The U-22s' recent results include losses to the senior Cambodia national team (0-3), Syria U-23s (1-6), Malaysia U-22s (0-1) and Thailand U-22s (2-3), but there was a creditable 0-0 draw against the Bahrain U-22s.


Bok has led his squad at age-group tournaments in Brunei, Vietnam and Bangladesh in the last eight months, although those squads hardly featured the U-23 players who are earmarked for the SEA Games.

Turning his attention to his opponents tonight, the former Warriors FC coach noted Cambodia capitalised on their numerical advantage in the win over the Singapore U-23s after defender Shakir Hamzah was harshly sent off with the score at 1-1.

But, Bok added: "I don't want to talk too much about that match. I just want to concentrate on this team and what we have ahead of us.

"I hope my boys rise to the occasion and give a good account of themselves."

Midfielder M Anumanthan, one of those who played on Thursday, said the players are keen to make amends.

"Even before tomorrow's game, a lot of people are already saying we will definitely lose," he said.

"But we are just going to ignore the talk and let our feet do the talking. We want to show what we can do."

The 20-year-old added that, despite the troubles the team have faced ahead of next week's qualifiers, they are raring to go.

"Looking at the other teams in the group, we have a good chance," said the defensive midfielder.

"We all know China are powerhouses, so we are targeting maximum points against Laos and Mongolia.

"Everyone wants the result and we are ready to fight for each other. Most of us are from the same age-group and came through the ranks together.

"So, even though we haven't trained much together recently, there is a good bond when we come together."

This article was first published on March 22, 2015.
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