The bar is set to be lowered.
The New Paper understands that plans are underway to turn the football tournament at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games — which currently features only players under the age of 23 — into an Under-21 competition.
But the rules are unlikely to kick in before the next Games in June 2015, which will be hosted by Singapore.
Asean Football Federation (AFF) general secretary Azzudin Ahmad confirmed this in a telephone interview with TNP last night.
He said: “Yes, it is possible that football at the SEA Games will be an U-21 tournament in the future.
“This is something that has been discussed by the AFF council.
“But it is not a certainty yet... we will continue to explore the idea.”
Football at the biennial SEA Games has been an U-23 tournament since 2001.
Before that, it was contested by the senior national teams since the Games’ inception as the South-east Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games in 1959.
The region’s football administrators were believed to have discussed the possible format change during an AFF council meeting in Naypyidaw, Myanmar last month.
It is understood football development is the main reason for the imminent shift.
The AFF is hoping the change will help Asean countries perform better at the continental and international level in Asian and Olympic Games qualifiers, which are U-23 competitions.
For example, almost half of Singapore’s strongest 11 at last month’s SEA Games — goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, defenders Faritz Hameed and Afiq Yunos, midfielder Hariss Harun and winger Gabriel Quak — are ineligible for this September’s Asian Games in South Korea as they are overaged.
It is hoped that exposure for younger players at SEA Games tournaments will stand them in good stead for bigger challenges.
In addition, the AFF hopes the change could also help some countries prepare better for the Games.
Malaysia U-23 coach Ong Kim Swee, for example, had to make do without five players — all aged 22 or 23 — at the World University Games last July as their clubs did not want to release key players for a non-Fifa-sanctioned tournament.
The AFF believes it would be easier for national sides to secure releases for players under 21, who might not have established themselves at their club sides yet.
Singapore Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar, who led his charges to a bronze medal last month, has mixed feelings about the proposed change.
PROS AND CONS
“There are pros and cons,” he said.
“On one hand, it’s definitely good for development that we are giving exposure to younger players, like they do in Europe with the Euro Under-21 tournament.
“But, for us (Singapore) the big challenge will be National Service (NS) again because those who are serving are usually around that age.
“If the change really does happen, I hope that things can be tweaked for our boys serving NS so they can train regularly, because they’ll definitely need it.”
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