Football: Lionesses happy to get more play time

Singapore's Stephanie Dominguez (left) vying for the ball with the United Arab Emirates' Afra Almheiri in a 0-0 friendly draw at Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
Singapore's Stephanie Dominguez (left) vying for the ball with the United Arab Emirates' Afra Almheiri in a 0-0 friendly draw at Jalan Besar Stadium last night.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

They face Bahrain next and also look ahead to Asian Cup qualifiers and possibly SEA Games

She got her first national football team call-up in January 2007, but Charmaine Lim never had much to look forward to.

Yet, this past year has seen a surge in activities in women's football, giving Lim and her team- mates a renewed sense of purpose and optimism.

Last night, the Lionesses drew 0-0 with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a friendly match at Jalan Besar Stadium. But at least they were playing their second match in three days, compared to years of inactivity in the past decade.

Said Lim, 27, a player-coach who plays in defensive midfield: "When we know that there are plans in the calendar and tournaments to play in, it gives us a lot of motivation because the national team have been dormant for so long.

"It seems like, finally, there's a sense of purpose to what we are training for."

Besides the UAE, who concluded their week-long training camp in Singapore yesterday, Bahrain will likely be coming here next month.

Also in the pipeline is a new women's development tournament which Singapore hosts from Feb 17-20. It will likely feature Malaysia and another foreign team.

In April, Singapore will also participate in the women's Asian Cup qualifiers, a competition they last joined in 2008.

Then, there is the prospect of playing in the SEA Games for the first time since 2003. Women's football was not contested at the 2011 and 2015 Games, and the Lionesses failed to convince the Singapore National Olympic Council to send them for the 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2013 editions.

It is a huge motivation for the Lionesses. Said Lim: "I've been in the national team for so long and I have not gone to the SEA Games. So for many of us, it is the big goal that we are really looking forward to.

"Previously, we've been driven solely based on our passion. Now, we train with a clear aim and objective - to build up towards these matches and tournaments."

The revival of the local women's football scene began last January, when Singapore played their first international friendly match in two years against Sri Lanka.

In August, the Republic rejoined the Asean Football Federation Women's Championship for the first time since 2012 but lost 0-14 to Vietnam, 0-8 to Thailand and 0-2 to the Philippines in the group stage.

While the women's team are aiming to qualify for August's SEA Games, their participation is dependent on how they fare over the next few months, as they will be using those results to justify their spot at the biennial competition.

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) general manager of grassroots and women's football Julie Teo said: "There has been a revival but we have to set realistic targets as our team are still inexperienced.

"We have planned several friendly matches in the coming months so that we can see where we stand in South-east Asia. We've got to show that we've got the potential to compete at the Asean level."

Besides rejuvenating the elite level, more seeds are being planted in the grassroots level by opening up more opportunities for young girls to play the sport.

About 100 girls aged between five and 16 train every week at the Fifa Live Your Goals centres at three schools: Queensway Secondary, Bowen Secondary and Coral Primary.

From this programme, a new Under-12 developmental squad has been formed and they meet for an additional training session every Wednesday.

Said Sitianiwati Rosielin, 20, who scored both goals for the Warriors FC in their 2-0 victory over Woodlands Wellington in the Women's Challenge Cup final last month: "There's a consistent line of activities coming up for us to look forward to this year.

"It's busy and hectic, but it's exciting and these activities help to keep the younger players motivated."

Teo is optimistic that these efforts will eventually bear fruit.

She said: "In the past, we were not that far behind our opponents in terms of our standards.

"But after that, for about six or seven years, we remained dormant while the other countries have improved.

"So now, we've got to catch up and move forward."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2017, with the headline 'Lionesses happy to get more play time'. Print Edition | Subscribe