Singapore's Under-22 footballers have been bidding to reach the semi-finals of the SEA Games tournament for the last two editions and the aim for this year remains the same.
But their task got considerably tougher following the draw in Manila yesterday, when they were placed in the tougher Group B along with defending champions Thailand, 2017 bronze medallists Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Brunei.
In Group A, hosts the Philippines were pooled with 2017 runners-up Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Timor-Leste.
The fixtures will be released later. The top two from each group will advance to the last four of the tournament from Nov 25 to Dec 10.
Singapore, who have never won gold, have not made it past the group stage in the past two editions.
Young Lions coach Fandi Ahmad said: "It is a tough draw, but it is good for us to see how we fare against some of the best teams in the region.
"There were positives from the two friendlies earlier this month (they lost 3-0 to the United Arab Emirates U-22s and beat Macau 4-0) and we also want to work on the finer details when we have our training camp in Japan from Oct 25 to Nov 7.
"We hope to have our full team for preparations and even though we are in the tougher group, our target remains to qualify for the semi-finals first."
SEA GAMES 2019
MEN'S FOOTBALL DRAW
• Malaysia (2017 silver)
• Thailand (2017 gold)
• Indonesia (2017 bronze)
SINGAPORE FOOTBALL AT LAST FIVE SEA GAMES
MALAYSIA 2017 Group stage, third in group
SINGAPORE 2015 Group stage third
MYANMAR 2013 Bronze
INDONESIA 2011 Group stage third
LAOS 2009 Bronze
Fandi's men could face former Singapore Under-19 midfielder Ben Davis, who is in Thailand's provisional 28-man squad.
Born in Phuket to a Thai mother and an English father, the 18-year-old Fulham footballer, who moved to Singapore at five and became a citizen four years later, defaulted on his national service obligations earlier this year and has chosen to represent Thailand instead of Singapore.
Fandi said that his final squad are not confirmed yet. He will choose two senior players allowed under tournament rules from Hariss Harun, Shawal Anuar, Faris Ramli, Raihan Rahman and Tajeli Salamat.
His decision will be influenced by his attacking options because Ikhsan Fandi could miss out if his Norwegian second-tier club Raufoss are involved in the promotional play-offs.
They are one point outside the division's top six with four league games to play.