SEA Games: Indonesia joust hardly a friendly

Coach V. Sundramoorthy at Geylang Field

SINGAPORE - It may be officially listed as a friendly, but the Republic's Under-23 side face their Indonesian counterparts on Saturday in what has turned out to be a critical fixture.

The result will almost certainly decide if the team get the nod from the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to play at this year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

But coach V Sundramoorthy - his squad will assemble for the first time for the mission this evening - is not losing any sleep.

"Having played them in Indonesia last month, we know they're a strong team," said Sundram.

"We will try to make use of this opportunity to make sure that we are allowed to go to the SEA Games, but what I'm looking for from my players is a consistently good performance throughout the 90 minutes."

Most of Sundram's Under-23 side will come from the LionsXII team he coached - five players in the title-winning team were over the age of 23 - that stormed to victory in the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL).

The Under-23s travelled to Solo on June 8 and played out a 1-1 draw with the 2011 SEA Games silver medallists, and followed it up by beating their Philippine counterparts 1-0 at the Hougang Stadium five days later.

Despite the LionsXII success and the two friendly results, the SNOC wanted the SEA Games team to test themselves against regional opposition and deliver results that showed they were worthy of a ticket.

The 2013 SEA Games will be held in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, from Dec 11 to 22. The football tournament will kick off earlier, with the showpiece final set to draw the Games to a close on Dec 22.

Malaysia are the SEA Games champions.

It is believed that a strong showing this Saturday will see Sundram's charges get the nod from the SNOC.

Sundram had to do without Hariss Harun, Safuwan Baharudin and Izwan Mahbud for the June friendly against Indonesia - they were away on Lions duty with Bernd Stange's senior side - and he is happy to have them back for the return fixture.

Contenders

Midfield general Harriss, the captain of the Under-23s, defensive stalwart Safuwan and goalkeeper Izwan are three reasons why the Singapore team are considered gold-medal contenders at the SEA Games.

"In the game we played in June, Indonesia had the lion's share of possession, but didn't overrun us. This time we'll have Hariss back and his leadership in midfield will be most welcome," said Sundram, 47.

"We all know what an aerial threat Safuwan is at set-pieces and Izwan gives us a safe pair of hands in goal - all this will add quality to our team.

"But we will not be taking the opposition lightly."

It is a sentiment echoed by Hariss.

"Indonesia were second at the last SEA Games, and we want a positive result against them to help our own cause," he said.

"Safuwan, Izwan and myself will be able to play against them this time, and while we hope to help the team, we will never take things lightly in any competitive fixture, especially against a team like Indonesia."

Fresh off the MSL triumph, Saturday's fixture - the Singapore team will feature a squad mostly made up of LionsXII players - comes at a time when other Malaysian clubs will get a chance to rest tired legs, ahead of Malaysia Cup next month.

Sundram insists the LionsXII will still benefit.

"This friendly will do us more good than harm. The over-aged players will get a few days' break after a long season and come back recharged for the Malaysia Cup, while the younger boys who haven't played as much during the season will have another game that will help keep them sharp and aid in their development," he said.

"This match against Indonesia will also give us a good gauge of where the team stand in the region. We are looking forward to it."

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