S'pore U-23s boost case for inclusion at SEA Games

S'pore U-23s boost case for inclusion at SEA Games
Safuwan Baharudin (centre) sandwiched by Rasyid Assahid Bakri (front) and Andik Vermansah (right).

SINGAPORE - They may have registered a 1-0 friendly win over the Indonesia Under-23s last Saturday night, but the Singapore U-23 side know that more graft is needed if they are to win the South-east Asia Games gold medal that has eluded the country.

The win will do much to persuade the Singapore National Olympic Council to give V. Sundramoorthy's youngsters the ticket for December's Myanmar Games, as they have beaten the 2011 silver-medallists to meet the council's qualifying target of matching at least the third-placed side of the last Games.

However, skipper Hariss Harun noted: "It wasn't a fantastic performance. We were decent in bits and pieces of the game and we can always do better."

Made up predominantly of players from the LionsXII team, the newly crowned Malaysian Super League champions, the U-23s have played only two friendlies this year.

They drew 1-1 with Indonesia's U-23 side away in Solo and defeated their Philippine counterparts 1-0 at the Hougang Stadium. Both games were played last month.

Last night, before 2,025 fans at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore produced a patchy performance that saw gloriously accurate diagonal balls soured by some carelessly misplaced square passes.

At times, it was Indonesia who impressed with their neat triangle passes and swift counter-attacks. Singapore started brightly when striker Shahfiq Ghani converted a ninth-minute penalty, after winger Faris Ramli was brought down inside the box by Indonesian defender Syahrizal.

But the visitors could have scored, too, as forward Yohanes Ferinando Pahabol's free-kick struck the post in the 38th minute.

Indonesia were also denied a penalty when Afiq Yunos sent midfielder Bayu Gatra Sanggiawan tumbling inside the area in the 54th minute.

Afiq, who plays for S-League outfit Courts Young Lions, was one of only two non-LionsXII players in the team with Geylang International's Delwinder Singh.

Singapore U-23 assistant coach K. Balagumaran, who spoke to the media after the match as Sundram was suffering from a fever, said: "The Indonesians play eye-catching football, their players change positions all the time and yet, they still know what to do.

"But we matched them over two games and I can see us putting up a strong challenge in the SEA Games if we are tactically disciplined and mentally strong."

Indonesia U-23 coach Rachmat Darmawan said that, with 65 players to select and almost three months of centralised training starting from September, his side are gunning for the gold medal.

However, he noted that Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia - champions in the last two editions in 2009 and 2011 - are strong challengers as well.

Sundram has 39 players under consideration but Hariss is convinced the team, if well-prepared, can make an impact in Myanmar.

The 23-year-old said: "We need to get together more. Most of the players are from the LionsXII and they have proved themselves in the Malaysian Super League.

"With more friendlies and centralised training, we are confident of going out there to show what we're made of."

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