Football: U-21s ready for Nations Cup test in Malaysia

Amirul Adli training with the Garena Young Lions squad. He and Adam Swandi were part of the SEA Games squad last year, and they were named in the U-21 squad for the Nations Cup next week. Former Cubs from the 2010 YOG are also included.
Amirul Adli training with the Garena Young Lions squad. He and Adam Swandi were part of the SEA Games squad last year, and they were named in the U-21 squad for the Nations Cup next week. Former Cubs from the 2010 YOG are also included. PHOTO: DANIEL NEO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

When Singapore crashed out of last year's SEA Games football tournament in the group stage after a 1-0 defeat by Indonesia on home soil, an injured Amirul Adli watched helplessly from the sidelines.

A year on, the defender has vowed not to let such a collapse happen again as the national Under-21 team look to make amends at next week's Nations Cup in Malacca.

Amirul said: "It was a painful moment for us. The team prepared so hard and well for it (SEA Games). For us to go down like that, it was heartbreaking.

"I just don't want to feel this setback again.

"This competition will be a good gauge and even a warm-up for us in the team to know what we will be expecting at next year's SEA Games, especially since it's against some of the best youths in South-east Asia."

Amirul and Adam Swandi, both 20, were part of last year's SEA Games squad and were named in the 24-strong U-21 squad yesterday by coach Richard Tardy. However, the team face a wait on Adam's fitness as the midfielder recovers from a fractured cheekbone.

The team will travel across the Causeway for the quadrangular, where they take on hosts Malaysia on June 3 at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca. The winner will then face either Vietnam or Thailand in the final on June 5.

Frenchman Tardy said: "International exposure is a key aspect of player development. The Nations Cup is an important platform for the players to gain experience on the international stage and hone our preparations leading up to the SEA Games in 2017."

Amirul is not the only one with a point to prove.

A clutch of players who had endeared themselves to Singaporeans six years ago at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) are also eager to replicate that success.

Following their bronze-medal showing in 2010, the Cubs have been largely quiet.

One of them, Hanafi Akbar, was arrested last year on suspicion of drug-related offences, while skipper Jeffrey Lightfoot had drifted out of the game.

This time, six former YOG U-15 players - Brandon Koh, Dhukilan Jeevamani, Ammirul Emmran, Jonathan Tan, Hazim Faiz and Muhaimin Suhaimi, will be hoping to make an impact next week.

Muhaimin, now 21, said: "It's our goal to have that kind of moment again. It felt like 15 years ago and I have almost forgotten how it felt like.

"This tournament is the right time for us to show how far we have progressed since then, and also to prove that we can play football at that high level against top teams.

"This is a totally new team. I'm excited and I can't wait to play."

All the matches will be aired live on Singtel TV Ch109 and Ch110 or via www.elevensports.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'U-21s ready for Nations Cup test in Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe