Football: Fandi Ahmad makes Asian Games case for Under-23s

Fandi Ahmad, seen overseeing his first training session with the Young Lions last month, hopes his charges can get opportunities to be tested by the top football teams in Asia.
Fandi Ahmad, seen overseeing his first training session with the Young Lions last month, hopes his charges can get opportunities to be tested by the top football teams in Asia.

Struggle to arrange games with top-ranked teams could stymie Young Lions' Indonesia hopes

Singapore's footballers received the green light for the 2014 Asian Games only one day before the entry-by-name deadline - just one month before the Incheon Games - and it appears they will again face uncertainty about their participation at this year's Asiad.

The Singapore National Olympic Council's (SNOC) qualification criteria is to match the top-six result at a previous Games, or to beat opponents ranked at least sixth on the continent.

To secure SNOC's approval, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has tried to arrange matches against the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand but to no avail.

Iraq pipped Thailand to the bronze medal in Incheon, while the UAE was a quarter-finalist at the Under-23 competition.

A friendly against Thailand had been scheduled for March 21 but the Thais have opted to face China instead, forcing Fandi Ahmad, FAS' head coach for youth who oversees the SEA Games and Asian Games teams, to settle for a home game against Indonesia on the same day.

Although far from being an ideal situation, the coach is adamant his Young Lions be given the chance to compete against the region's best and be sent to the Aug 18-Sept 2 Asiad in Jakarta and Palembang.

STRONG OPPONENTS WANTED

How can we expect them to upgrade themselves if we don't support them by giving them chances to compete?

FANDI AHMAD, head coach of the Young Lions team aspiring to compete at the 2018 Asian Games, on the need for quality opposition.

"We must give our players opportunities to play against top-level opponents, otherwise we will never be able to get them to grow because they will always be stuck at the level of youth leagues, or at best, the S-League," said Fandi, whose long-term target is a podium finish at the 2019 SEA Games.

His charges play in the S-League as the Young Lions, but Fandi feels that is insufficient. He said: "There has not been enough international games for these boys in the last few years, and we must be fair to these youngsters.

"How can we expect them to upgrade themselves if we don't support them by giving them chances to compete?"

At the Incheon Asiad, Singapore finished third in Group C behind Palestine and Tajikistan with one win and one draw, missing out on the knockout stages by two points.

The experience was vital for the likes of squad members Faris Ramli, Safuwan Baharudin and Shakir Hamzah, all of whom have gone on to become mainstays of the Lions.

"I'm not sure if we'll be able to play any of the top six teams - although Thailand have offered to play in June - but we must go to the Asian Games," said Fandi.

His team just returned from a three-match tour in Malaysia, where they faced the U-21 sides of Kuala Lumpur FA (0-0), PKNS (lost 2-4) and UITM (won 3-0).

They will next head to Brunei to compete for the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy in April.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'Fandi makes ASIAD case for U-23s'. Print Edition | Subscribe