Merlion Cup returns in March as part of SEA Games preparation
More than three years after the Singapore Under-22 team defeated their Thai counterparts to win the Merlion Cup at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the Young Lions will get a chance to defend the crown with the return of the invitational tournament from March 24-26.
In a media statement on Thursday, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced that the Singapore U-22 side will take part in the quadrangular tournament at Jalan Besar featuring the national U-22 teams of Cambodia, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
The tournament will kick off on March 24, with the third-place play-off and final to be played two days later. A draw to determine the fixtures will take place next Monday. Ticketing information will be released in due course.
This quandragular will allow the teams to prepare for the SEA Games in Cambodia in May. The men’s football competition will begin on April 29, six days before the May 5 opening ceremony, with the tournament draw expected to be held by mid-April.
In June 2019, the Singapore U-22 side – led by coach Fandi Ahmad – clinched the Merlion Cup in a quandragular that featured their Thai, Indonesian and Philippine counterparts. The Young Lions pipped Thailand 1-0 in the final with Ikhsan Fandi scoring the winner.
This time around, Philippe Aw, who coaches the Young Lions in the Singapore Premier League, will also take charge of the Singapore Under-22s who have a busy year ahead. Besides the Merlion Cup and the SEA Games, they also have the 2024 Under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers scheduled for September and the Sept 23-Oct 8 Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Aw, 45, has called on his players to show that they have “the hunger, the desire and the ability to step up when called upon”. He said that he was looking forward to working with players from the other SPL clubs “so that the team as a whole can be a cohesive unit that works together”.
“Ultimately, we want to ensure that the players are ready to make the step up to the national team and will be ready when called upon,” he added. “Our opponents in the Merlion Cup will provide a good benchmark of the type of opposition that we can expect to face in the upcoming SEA Games.”
Under the regulations set by hosts Cambodia, this will be purely an Under-22 competition, unlike the previous edition where each team could field up to three overaged players.
The age limit, which has been lowered from Under-23, also rules out a slew of players who turn 23 in 2023 and have been capped at the national level. They include Young Lions captain Jacob Mahler, Tampines Rovers striker Glenn Kweh and Thailand-based fullback Ryhan Stewart.
At the last SEA Games in 2022, the Singapore side led by Nazri Nasir crashed out at the group stages in Vietnam, winning just one of their four matches and finishing third in their group behind Thailand and Malaysia and ahead of Cambodia and Laos. It was Singapore’s fourth straight SEA Games group-stage exit.
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