Despite win, Lionesses face struggle for SEA Games spot

Stephanie Gigette Dominguez, 19, during training at Serangoon Stadium. The footballers need a decent run at the women's Asian Cup qualifiers to earn the approval of the SEA Games selectors.
Stephanie Gigette Dominguez, 19, during training at Serangoon Stadium. The footballers need a decent run at the women's Asian Cup qualifiers to earn the approval of the SEA Games selectors.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Even after winning their first match in 10 years last Thursday, a spot at August's SEA Games is not guaranteed for the women's national football team.

In order to convince the Singapore National Olympic Council to select them for the biennial competition in Malaysia, the Lionesses have to prove that they are medal contenders by producing creditable results against Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.

But a SEA Games medal is surely a tall order for Singapore. The three opposing nations are among the top Asian teams. Thailand are ranked 30th in the Fifa women's world rankings and they played in the women's World Cup Finals in 2015. Vietnam and Myanmar are ranked 32nd and 43rd respectively.

Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar won the gold, silver and bronze medals respectively at the 2013 edition of the SEA Games - the last time women's football was contested. The sport was not included in the 2011 and 2015 Games.

So even though Singapore, who are ranked 98th, thrashed 114th-ranked Bangladesh 3-0 in the inaugural Women's Developmental Tournament last week to record their first international victory since Oct 27, 2007, that alone is not sufficient for the Lionesses to earn their first appearance at the SEA Games since 2003.

National coach Yeong Sheau Shyan, 38, who played in the 2003 SEA Games, was realistic when assessing the team's chances against regional rivals.

She said: "Looking at the level of teams like Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, they are technically one level above us. They are world-class teams but we're a team who are still at the developmental stage.

"So I know that it would be difficult for us to deliver results against them. But at the same time, our ladies need to play more international matches to learn."

Midfielder Angeline Chua, 28, noted: "There is a big gap between us and them. If we play against them, we would be defending all the time and it might not be helpful for a developmental squad like ours."

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) general manager of grassroots and women's football, Julie Teo, said the SEA Games selection picture will be clearer after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) women's Asian Cup qualifiers in April.

Singapore are drawn to play against Vietnam (April 7) and Myanmar (April 9) in Group D of the competition held in Hanoi. They open against Syria on April 3 and will face Iran on April 5.

As part of the pre-tournament preparation, the Lionesses will travel to Hong Kong for a friendly match on March 12.

Teo said: "We're at a stage when we're gradually rebuilding the team. We understand what it takes to be selected. Yet I hope that we can go (to the SEA Games) so that we can gain experience through playing more matches."

Results aside, Teo was pleased to see that the young 27-player squad, with an average age of 22.3, have improved.

Teo said: "To see that the girls produce this kind of performance is heartening. We could see the way they played (against Bangladesh) - they were confident enough to attack and connect through to score a goal. That's ultimately the improvement we want to see and it makes all the work we've been doing worthwhile."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Despite win, Lionesses face struggle for SEA Games spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe