Football: 'Golden chance' for medal for Singapore after kind SEA Games football draw

Balestier Khalsa winger Hanafi Akbar, 22, wants to make an impact on the football field after spending a year in prison for drug offences.
Balestier Khalsa winger Hanafi Akbar, 22, wants to make an impact on the football field after spending a year in prison for drug offences.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

S'pore avoid defending SEA Games champion Thailand in group stage, drawn with Malaysia

With only two wins from nine matches since the start of the year, expectations of a SEA Games football medal were low for Singapore.

But the national Under-22 team's chances of reaching the semi-finals received a boost yesterday after they were handed a favourable draw. They avoided defending champions Thailand and dark horses Vietnam and Indonesia.

The Republic are in Group A alongside hosts Malaysia, Myanmar - who they beat 3-1 in February - and minnows Brunei and Laos after yesterday's draw in Kuala Lumpur.

Timor Leste, the Philippines and Cambodia complete Group B for the Aug 14-29 football competition. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the knockout stage.

Singapore U-22 coach Richard Tardy said his team "are perhaps more confident after the draw than we were before it" but cautioned against underestimating their opponents.

After all, despite home ground advantage at the 2015 Games, Singapore crashed out at the group stage.

Playing in front of your own supporters can be a double-edged sword, said Home United midfielder Adam Swandi, who featured in that campaign.

  • SEA GAMES 2017 FOOTBALL

  • GROUP A 

    Singapore 
    Malaysia 
    Myanmar 
    Laos 
    Brunei

    SHAH ALAM STADIUM 

  • GROUP B 

    Indonesia 
    Thailand 
    Vietnam 
    Timor Leste 
    Cambodia
    Philippines

    SELAYANG STADIUM 

The 21-year-old added: "I think the pressure is mostly on Malaysia, because they are the ones playing at home. I hope the boys can take that as an advantage, that they are under pressure and hopefully we can rise to the occasion."

For now, the focus is on the upcoming warm-up games against India's U-23 team today and Wednesday at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium.

With players like Irfan Fandi rejoining the side after a stint with the senior squad and others returning from injury, Tardy will finally have a full 23-member squad at his disposal to determine his strongest eleven.

There will be more games for the team later this month at the 2018 Asian Football Confederation Under-23 Championship qualifiers in Myanmar. Singapore are in Group F with Brunei, Australia and hosts Myanmar.

Tardy said: "I hope to be able to test all my players to find the best team.

"For sure we need to score more goals. It is maybe one of our bigger concerns. When we were in Dubai (in March) we scored one goal in four games, against Qatar (last month) we didn't score, missing a penalty when it was 0-0."

One player looking to impress him is Hanafi Akbar, who scored a fine solo effort against Vanuatu U-20s in May.

The 22-year-old Balestier Khalsa winger, who spent a year in prison for drug offences, said: "I've done something wrong and I learned from my mistakes. I think performing well is the best way to make it up to all of them."

Singapore have never won football gold at the SEA Games. Their last medal was a bronze at the 2013 Games in Myanmar.

Former national defender and assistant national U-20 coach S. Subramani said: "The draw represents a golden opportunity for our boys to progress, and is something we should not let slip."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline ''Golden chance' for medal'. Print Edition | Subscribe