SINGAPORE - The nation'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 ceremony in Manila on Tuesday (Oct 15), 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 teams from each group will progress to the semi-finals. Singapore have never won the SEA Games football gold, and have failed to make the last four in the past two tournaments.
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."
While this remains an U-22 competition, teams will be allowed to register and field two overaged players. The tournament kicks off on Nov 26.
The Group B fixtures could see Fandi's men facing 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 and he will choose two senior players from Hariss Harun, Shawal Anuar, Faris Ramli, Raihan Rahman and Tajeli Salamat.
His decision will be influenced by his attacking options as Ikhsan Fandi could miss out if his Norwegian second-tier club Raufoss are involved in the playoffs for a place in the top tier next season. They are currently one point outside the division's top six with four league games to play.
Singapore's record at the SEA Games football competition
2017 Kuala Lumpur: Group stage
2015 Singapore: Group stage
2013 Yangon: Bronze
2011 Jakarta: Group stage
2009 Vientiane: Bronze