SEA Games: Don't count us out yet, we can still qualify for semis, says Young Lions coach

Young Lions coach Nazri Nasir (right) has to mastermind another unlikely comeback against a familiar rival. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

HANOI - Young Lions coach Nazri Nasir believes in upsetting the odds. After all, he has witnessed first hand sporting miracles, especially in Hanoi.

In 1998, as the national captain, he led Singapore to an improbable victory at the AFF Championship - then known as the Tiger Cup - held in the Vietnamese capital as the Lions captured their first international football title.

Nazri, 51, now has to mastermind another unlikely comeback against a familiar rival. The Republic's Under-23 SEA Games team face Malaysia on Saturday (May 14) knowing anything less than a win and three points will all but end their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals.

The former midfielder said: "I remember the Tiger Cup in Hanoi very clearly. No one expected us to beat Malaysia (they did 2-0 in the first game) and nobody expected us to qualify (for the semi-finals) but we went on to do both.

"It's not just about qualification (at the SEA Games). Be it at the senior or youth level, it is something special to face Malaysia and I have told the players that it should mean more to them."

His team started their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Laos before a 5-0 thumping by Thailand. They got their first win with a 1-0 victory over Cambodia on Wednesday.

They sit second in Group B with four points, two behind leaders Malaysia, who have beaten Thailand (2-1) and Laos (3-1) so far.

Singapore's hopes of finishing in the top two and progressing to the knockout rounds is dependent on several results involving the other four teams going their way.

Nazri, who has led the senior national team to two victories in as many friendlies against Malaysia while he was interim coach of the Lions, noted: "I'm optimistic and positive. We need to beat Malaysia and hope for the best.

"The likes of Cambodia and Laos have grown a lot and they have experienced coaches. I do think there is a possibility that Cambodia can beat Malaysia. There can be upsets."

History, however, does not favour the Young Lions.

Since their first clash at the 1973 Games, Singapore and Malaysia have faced each other on 15 occasions with Singapore recording just three wins during regulation time and one via a penalty shoot-out.

Forward Glenn Kweh, who scored against Laos, said the performance against Cambodia has given him and his teammates confidence.

He said: "The boys showed a lot more desire, we were tighter defensively and we showed hunger in wanting to win the game. But we could have been a lot more clinical with our chances."

He is raring to go at the Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh and refuses to contemplate an early exit.

Glenn Kweh celebrating with Jordan Emaviwe after the latter netted in the 96th minute to save a point against Laos in their Games opener. PHOTO: JEREMY LEE/SPORT SINGAPORE

Singapore clinched a bronze medal at the 2013 Games in Myanmar before crashing out at the group stage in the next three editions (2015, 2017 and 2019).

Kweh, 22, said: "Anything can happen. We can only control our games. All we can do is perform well against Malaysia and win and then leave the rest to Cambodia (to beat the Thais and Malaysians)."

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