Since his appointment as head coach (youth) by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) last October, Fandi Ahmad has been scouring the island for talented players to join him on his quest for SEA Games glory in 2019 and 2021.
Aside from players in the National Football Academy and Prime League, he has also been targeting players from amateur leagues and schools. In fact, more than half of his current pool of players fall outside the traditional set-up.
And, after months of training, Fandi and his "motley crew" will play their first official friendly match - some 5,580km away in the middle of the Indian Ocean, he will lead the national Under-20 team against Mauritius U-21s. The game, to be played on March 11, is part of the host nation's Independence Day celebrations. The former British colony turns 49 on March 12.
FAS interim president Lim Kia Tong and Mauritius Football Association secretary-general Paul Didier Gnanapragassa were present yesterday to announce the tie.
Fandi, 54, said: "We've assembled a new team and I'm very excited for these players, many of whom dream to play for Singapore one day and their dream could soon be a reality."
Fandi said he has been scouting for players with assistance from former national players S. Subramani and Nazri Nasir, while former national goalkeeper Rezal Hassan helps the trio out in coaching.
He added: "We've found some good players. Some of them can't get into clubs but sometimes it's because they mature later. We want to continue their development.
"We've played about seven friendly matches so far and we're improving. The important thing is to see how they develop and if they can play at the highest level."
Goalkeeper Hariz Farid is one such player to watch. The 19-year-old was spotted by Fandi after excelling in a friendly match for Republic Polytechnic against Fandi's side last December.
He said: "It's been a great learning experience so far. Against Mauritius, for most of us, it'd be our first time representing Singapore and we're looking forward to it."
Chua Siang Yee