Under-21s looking for game-changers
Tardy says Joshua and Adam have the talent to unlock defences and thrill fans
FAS UNDER-21 INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE CUP
SINGAPORE v HONG KONG
(Tomorrow, 8pm, Bishan Stadium)
When the chips are down, teams depend on players with the speed of thought and stardust in their boots to turn matches.
Last month, the Singapore Under-21 team's lack of a game-changer was telling when they flopped at the Nations Cup quadrangular in Malacca.
Richard Tardy's charges were soundly beaten 3-0 by hosts Malaysia in the opening game, before blowing a 2-0 lead in the battle for third against Vietnam, eventually losing on penalties.
As his boys prepare for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Under-21 International Challenge Cup this week, starting with tomorrow's game against Hong Kong, the French coach insists he has players capable of producing magical moments.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Tardy said: "We have Adam Swandi, who can help the team with such moments.
SPARK: Singapore Under-21 coach Richard Tardy is counting on players like Adam Swandi to help win matches with moments of magic.TNP PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
"We put him more in midfield, because he has the ability to recover balls, but he also has the technical quality to make good short or long passes into the final third.
"Joshua (Bernard Pereira) also has a similar quality in midfield."
The most difficult challenge, said the coach, is putting the ball in the back of the net.
"Sometimes, young players are worried to take risks (in the attacking third)," he pointed out.
With only 13 months to go before next year's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, time is ticking on the Young Lions' search for a reliable scorer.
Tardy, who led Rwanda to the Under-17 World Cup in 2011, said the team's ideal long-term solution could be 17-year-old Ikhsan Fandi, the second of local legend Fandi Ahmad's four sons, who impressed the coach with his "intelligence" in two sparring matches against the Iran Under-21 team in Teheran in March.
But Ikhsan, older brother Irfan, Hazim Faiz and Taufik Suparno are all unavailable for this week's tournament because of National Service (NS).
So Tardy is banking on Home United's Prime League striker Amiruldin Asraf to lead the line.
The 19-year-old, who is the son of former national striker Nordin Khalil, has scored eight goals in 11 games for Home's reserve side this season.
"This will be a good test for Amiruldin," said Tardy.
"I made sure he joined the Under-19 team (that played two friendly matches in Bahrain last month) because I want to push him and give him more exposure."
The youngster is hardly holding back, saying yesterday he wants to open his international account tomorrow.
"The challenge is there for me and there will be more pressure on us as a team because we're on home ground," said Amiruldin.
"But our composure and confidence must be there. Hopefully, we can handle it."
Attacking midfielder Adam is eager to test himself against Iran and Uzbekistan - whose senior football teams are ranked first and third in Asia, respectively.
"I go into every game to do better than my last," said the 20-year-old, who is in NS with the police force.
"This is a good stage for all of us to show we are capable of competing at this level.
"I want to prove I can be an important player in our team.
"I know it'll take a lot of effort, but hopefully all of the hard work I've put in over the years will pay off."
Adam, who was once touted for big things when he jetted off to France for a two-year stint with FC Metz in 2013, made the cut for the Under-23 football squad that took part in last year's SEA Games on home soil.
Despite being just 19 and playing out of position in holding midfield, he was one of the few players who emerged with any credit as Singapore were dumped out at the group stage.
"The last SEA Games was a disaster," admitted Adam.
"We did so much to prepare for it, but we didn't perform or get the results we wanted.
"Being part of that team, I know how tough a fight it is at the SEA Games.
"I'm looking forward to Kuala Lumpur and hopefully the likes of Amirul Adli (centre back) and I can help the new players in the team do better at the next SEA Games."
Tardy, who is likely to lead the Under-21 team at next year's SEA Games, insisted his team are shaping up nicely.
"We need exposure, we need games and it's great the FAS is giving us the opportunities like this (U-21 tournament), so we know it is behind this team and helping us to get what we need," he said.
"We are one year away from the SEA Games and I am confident about our team."
Tardy: Players must prove themselves
Singapore will play against Hong Kong, and then Iran or Uzbekistan. Are you excited?
RICHARD TARDY: Yes, it's good. This year is for us to look at players, and next year results are important because of the SEA Games (in August).
We have played in Iran, in Malacca (at the Nations Cup), now we have this tournament.
In November, we go back to Vietnam (for the Newspaper Cup) and we are also looking at Fifa dates to play more games.
The players who can play in the SEA Games, and there are not many... we must test them.
This is a very good opportunity to give more exposure to the players and to find different football styles.
The Under-21 team flopped at the Nations Cup last month. How upset were you?
Our first game (a 3-0 loss) against Malaysia was not good and the players know this.
Maybe they put some pressure on themselves because it was a tournament in Malaysia, and the first game was against the hosts.
Against Vietnam, after we scored our second goal, we conceded too quickly.
After that, we forgot to play football, we tried to keep the result.
And, in football, when you play to defend and make mistakes, you will be punished.
The good thing is there were some players, like Rusyaidi (Salime) and Hazim (Faiz), who did well.
But we also had some players who didn't play at their normal level.
What was the biggest lesson from the Nations Cup?
In international games, you cannot make mistakes, and this is what the boys must learn from the tournament in Malacca.
Against Malaysia, we conceded one stupid goal.
Against Vietnam, we lost the ball (cheaply) in the final minute and conceded the equaliser.
So they must learn from their mistakes, and we must show more.
The players have the spirit and desire, but we must play better football.
You are playing on home soil. What can local fans expect?
I want the team to play with very good spirit.
The philosophy is to try and play as a team but, in a team, you need every player to play at his highest level.
What do you want to see from your boys in the two matches this week?
One thing I told the players at the start of the season is that they must be proud to put the national jersey on, because they are playing for the country.
Sometimes, this is what I feel, when you talk about Thailand, Malaysia... I feel more pride among their players.
I hope our team will be happy to prove something, first for themselves and also for the fans who are coming to watch their games.
They are the future of Singapore football and they must do their best because everyone is looking at them and waiting for some good results.
We know, with young players, sometimes it's good, sometimes not very good, but I hope for the best.
The players have shown good things in friendly games, but they must show it now in tournaments like this.