Facing Malaysia is special: Nazri

Young Lions coach remains upbeat about team's semi-final chances despite unlikely odds

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 national captain, he led Singapore to an improbable victory at the AFF Championship - then known as the Tiger Cup - 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 today, 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 won 2-0 in their first game) and nobody expected us to qualify (for the semi-final) but we went on to do both.

"It's not just about qualification (for the semis 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 triumph 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).

Singapore's hopes of finishing in the top two and progressing into 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 Lions coach, 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 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. Singapore clinched a bronze 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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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2022, with the headline Facing Malaysia is special: Nazri. Subscribe