Big carrot dangling for Aide's Young Lions

Beat Indonesia and a huge crowd at National Stadium beckons in s-finals

THE 55,000-capacity National Stadium sits ready for them to write the next chapter of Singapore's football folklore.

But, first, the Young Lions have to earn the right to be there.

After a roller-coaster ride of a SEA Games campaign, it comes down to 90 minutes tonight for Aide Iskandar's weary but willing troops.

Anything less than a win against Indonesia at Jalan Besar Stadium and they will be just the fifth hosts in 28 editions to bow out in the group phase of the biennial showpiece.

Both teams are level on six points from three matches in Group A but the visitors, who are ahead in second place behind leaders Myanmar, can afford to draw as they enjoy a superior goal difference.

The stakes, as former national captain Aide readily admits, "cannot get any higher". Even so, he wants his Under-23 players to "go out and enjoy themselves... play with no pressure".

Singapore's sailors, bowlers and swimmers have quenched the nation's thirst for medals but the country hungers for the elusive gold from its most popular spectator sport.

Win or lose this past week, the Republic's footballers have been firmly under the spotlight.

Chief striker Sahil Suhaimi has to dodge tackles on the field and fierce criticism off it for his wayward shooting.

Goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari was in tears and feared for his place in the team following two costly errors in a 1-2 loss to Myanmar.

Aide has had his every decision scrutinised, from benching rising talent Irfan Fandi for the first two games to his exclusion of silky attacker Iqbal Hussain.

"Even before the tournament, we knew it was going to come down to this final group game," Aide said yesterday.

"We are well-prepared for Indonesia. If the boys stick to the game plan, we will get the result."

Still, at this stage, Singapore fans will be hard-pressed to define their team's playing style.

Short, swift exchanges were the rage in the opening 1-0 win over the Philippines.

But when they downed Cambodia 3-1 on Monday, the final third was peppered aerially for 1.87m forward Irfan to take advantage of - even when he was not ready for it.

"When you have Peter Crouch (the 2.03m English striker) in your team, it's ridiculous not to play long balls," said Aide.

"Our problem was the crosses were not timed with Irfan's movement in the box."

They have to get it right against 2013 finalists Indonesia, who brushed aside Cambodia (6-1) and the Philippines (2-0) after being shocked 4-2 by Myanmar.

Irfan, the exciting 17-year-old prospect, trained last night after recovering from the flu and is expected to keep his place up front with Sahil.

There is an enforced change at left-back, as Balestier Khalsa youngster Ho Wai Loon starts for the first time in place of the suspended Shakir Hamzah.

The 21-year-old is tasked with curbing the creativity of winger Ahmad Noviandani, a key cog of Indonesia's pacy attack.

"I don't want to let the coach and my team-mates down," said the soft-spoken Ho.

Aide added: "I have full confidence in Wai Loon.

"He's aggressive and not afraid to make a tackle."

The mission for Ho and Co is clear: Win, and Saturday's semi-finals beckon at what will likely be a sold-out National Stadium.

Anything less, and they may live with the regret of not going all the way on home soil.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

Singapore v Indonesia

Singtel TV Ch134, 8pm

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