SINGAPORE - After a two-decade absence from the SEA Games, the excitement of competing in the regional tournament once again is palpable among the national women's footballers.
Since receiving news in February that they would be competing at the May 12-23 Games in Hanoi, the Lionesses have been hard at work, arriving for training two to three hours earlier to work on things like skills and technique, while also putting in additional sessions in the gym to improve their strength and conditioning.
Players like vice-captain Stephanie Gigette Dominguez have been doing this while juggling their school and working commitments.
Now, they will get the chance to put their preparations to the test at the upcoming FAS Tri-Series Nations 2022 (Women's), as they take on Seychelles and Papua New Guinea in the triangular tournament at Jalan Besar Stadium.
"Ever since we got the announcement that we were going to participate in the SEA Games, I can see we've been coming to training earlier just to self-train, to up our skills and technique," said Dominguez, a 23-year-old graduating student from Temasek Polytechnic, who also works part-time as a food deliverer to cover her daily expenses.
"Not only that, we've been going to the gym to build on our strength and conditioning. It's not only the physical part, I really like how we check in on each other mentally and emotionally so in a way that builds our chemistry on and off the pitch so that's what I really like about our team and that's how we've progressed ever since we came back from Tajikistan last year."
She was referring to last September's AFC Women's Asian Cup Qualifiers in Dushanbe, where they lost 1-0 to Indonesia twice. Their upcoming matches in the triangular tournament will be world No. 135 Singapore's first since then.
Dominguez said: "I'm actually very excited to play in front of friends and family and how they can be physically there to support us. It's exciting to see and show them how much we've improved."
For head coach Stephen Ng, the upcoming tournament in Singapore is an opportunity to put the things they have been working on into practice.
It is also a chance to see how foreign-based players such as Danelle Tan and Putri Syaliza Sazali, who are studying in the England and the United States respectively, gel with the squad.
The games against unranked Seychelles on Monday (April 4) and world No. 49 Papua New Guinea on April 11 also gives the younger players a chance to gain international experience.
Over a third of the players in Ng’s 25-strong squad are aged 20 or below.
He said: "Having not played any games from the last game we had in Tajikistan last year, these matches will give us experience and exposure to prepare for our May SEA Games.
"We are looking to expose players, especially the younger players wherever possible and also to look at overseas-based players with Danelle and Putri coming back to Singapore."
Ng was encouraged by what he has seen in training ahead of the team's match against Seychelles.
The former national goalkeeper said: "The team are gelling very well, it's a good build up from last year - we have included a few more young players to look at the future of the team... The SEA Games is a different ball game altogether so this game against Seychelles is very good for us in terms of our preparations."
For Seychelles, who are coached by former Singapore international Angeline Chua, the upcoming tournament could prove to be significant as they work towards earning a place in the Fifa rankings.
To be ranked on the Fifa list, the team have to play a minimum of six international matches.
Prior to the tournament, the team had already played five games, coming up twice against United Arab Emirates and Maldives, and once against Saudi Arabia.
Seychelles captain Pascalina Moustache, 30, said: "If tomorrow we achieve the ranking then it's history for Seychelles people because it's a big thing for us, especially for me. I'm 30 and maybe have five more years to play soccer but I will be glad to be part of the team right now for the ranking."
Chua, also the Seychelles Football Federation director of women's football, added: "It's really good because we need to have a benchmark of where we are going so to be in the Fifa ranking is the first step towards that."
Ahead of Monday's game, the 33-year-old, who made 32 appearances for the Lionesses from 2007 to 2019, said: "The team changed quite a little bit. Singapore is going with young players and the playing style has changed over the years... so (there could be an) advantage maybe because I know some players but I feel like from the development point of view, it's good for both teams because we both want to expose our players."
Singapore v Seychelles (April 4)
Seychelles v Papua New Guinea (April 8)
Singapore v Papua New Guinea (April 11)
- All matches will be played at Jalan Besar Stadium and will kick off at 8.30pm
Tickets can be bought here. They are priced at $10 for adults and $5 for concession, applicable for students aged 16 and below, and senior citizens aged 60 and above, with a valid concession card.
Fans can also purchase the Singapore bundle for both matches, priced at $18 for adults and $9 for concession, excluding booking fees.