Football: U-21 boys eye Lions spot

Adam Swandi (left) challenging Hafiz Sulaiman for the ball during the Singapore Under-21 team’s training yesterday. They will play Iran at Bishan Stadium tonight.
Adam Swandi (left) challenging Hafiz Sulaiman for the ball during the Singapore Under-21 team’s training yesterday. They will play Iran at Bishan Stadium tonight. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Coach Tardy says real target is SEA Games, promotion to full national side

Despite overseeing mixed results over the past few months, national youth teams head coach Richard Tardy still believes a number of his Under-21 players will challenge for a place in the national team in the near future.

Ahead of Singapore's match against Iran in the inaugural Football Association of Singapore U-21 International Challenge Cup final tonight at Bishan Stadium, the Frenchman gave his youngsters a vote of confidence.

He said: "We know that in the long term, we have to ensure that we develop the best players for the national 'A' team.

"This is our target - to prepare for the future and nurture the best players for the national 'A' team.

"We know that in this one to two years, many players (from this team) have the potential to progress to the national team. This is the target of many of the players in the U-21 team."

Besides the 2010 Youth Olympic Games bronze-winning trio Dhukhilan Jeevamani, Jonathan Tan and Muhaimin Suhaimi, a few other Cubs impressed in the 5-0 romp over Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Forward Adam Swandi, deployed deep in midfield against Hong Kong, put in a tireless shift to deny the opposition space.

Alongside him was Man of the Match Joshua Pereira. The midfielder was instrumental in the U-21s' victory, impressing with his technique as well as his playmaking ability by contributing two goals and two assists.

A large chunk of the national U-21 outfit are expected to form the core of the next year's U-23 squad in their hunt for the Republic's elusive first SEA Games football gold.

Tardy is aware this quadrangular is crucial in their preparations for their mission in Malaysia next year.

"I would like to emphasise that our goal for the U-21 team and in this tournament is to prepare for the SEA Games.

"It is important that the players use this tournament to develop their skills and grow stronger as a team," the Frenchman said.

"The Iranian youth team are strong, but our players showed determination and grit in Teheran against Iran earlier this year, where we narrowly lost 0-1 and 0-2 in the two matches.

"The team displayed their fighting spirit against one of the best sides in Asia, the Iranian senior national team are the top Fifa-ranked team in Asia - and I believe they are all raring to put in their best effort (tonight)."

Pereira added: "We fought hard against Iran, who are one of the top youth teams in Asia, with their senior team ranked first in Asia. We have to be focused and play well together as a team.

"We take each game as an experience. Every international game is an invaluable opportunity for us to improve individually, and together as a team.

"Our main goal is to prepare for the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia, and every game is important to us."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2016, with the headline 'U-21 boys eye Lions spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe