Football: Favourable draw for Singapore U-23 side at the SEA Games

The U-23 team will be the latest Singapore squad to seek SEA Games glory. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - The national Under-23 football team on Wednesday (April 6) morning were handed the best draw they could have hoped for, for the May 12-23 Hanoi SEA Games.

They were drawn in Group B with Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos in Group B. They will kick off their campaign against Laos on May 7.

While Thailand are record 16-time champions and one of the two top seeds of the tournament, Nazri Nasir's charges avoided the two finalists in 2019 - winners Vietnam and Indonesia - who are in Group A with the Myanmar, the Philippines and Timor Leste.

The top two teams from each group will progress into the competition's semi-final.

Nazri told The Straits Times: “Thailand will be the toughest test but looking at the other teams in the group, I would say everyone is quite equal.

“It is all up to us now, and about how badly we want to get into the semi-finals.”

Defender Jacob Mahler said that the outcome of the draw did not change the team’s ambition.

“Our mindset will be the same and we are going to treat every game like a final, as we want to win a medal,” said the 21-year-old.

“The boys and I are excited to head to Vietnam and showcase our ability, and make Singapore proud.”

Mahler and his teammates will play their games at the Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh. Group A matches, meanwhile, will take place at Viet Tri Stadium in the Phu Tho Province. 

The final is scheduled to take place at the 40,000-capacity My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi on May 22.

Nazri's boys will be the latest Singapore squad to seek SEA Games glory, which has eluded the Republic.

Singapore's best performance were three runner-up finishes, in 1983, 1985 and 1989.

More recently, the Republic won bronze medals at three of the four Games between 2007 and 2013, but exited at the group stage in three consecutive tournaments.

Football at the SEA Games became an Under-23 tournament in 2001, and an U-22 one from 2017.

This year's edition, however, will be an U-23 tournament to factor in the six-month postponement of the Games. A maximum of three overaged players may be named by each nation.

National skipper Hariss Harun was among those named as potential overaged players in the longlist submitted by the Football Association of Singapore.

The others include goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, defenders Irfan Fandi, Zulqarnaen Suzliman, midfielders Zulfahmi Arifin, Shahdan Sulaiman, Song Ui-young, Hami Syahin, and forward Shawal Anuar.

Nazri said he had not decided on which three would be his picks, and would depend on factors like a players’ versatility and physical conditioning closer to the SEA Games, before deciding.

In the Asean Football Federation U-23 Championship in Phnom Penh in February, Nazri's squad were ravaged by a spate of positive Covid-19 cases and crashed out after losing 3-1 to Thailand and then 7-0 to Vietnam.

The Vietnamese went on to lift the title after beating Thailand 1-0 in the final.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore's U-23 team had played only three competitive matches prior to that tournament in the last two years.

At October's Asian Football Confederation U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers they beat the Philippines 1-0, drew 2-2 with Timor- Leste and lost 5-1 to South Korea.

The Singapore's women's team, meanwhile, were also handed a favourable draw in what will be their first appearance at the SEA Games since 2003.

They were drawn in Group B with Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and avoided Vietnam and the Philippines - the two Asean sides that have qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup.

Those two sides were drawn in Group A with Cambodia and Indonesia.

Women's football at the SEA Games is not an age-group competition.

Singapore's SEA games matches

Group stage

May 7: Laos

May 9: Thailand

May 11: Cambodia

May 14: Malaysia

At the Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh

If the Lions qualify:

May 19: Semi-finals*

May 22: Final*

*At the My Dinh National Stadium

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