Young Lions to train in Thailand ahead of U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers
Three months after their dismal outing at the SEA Games, the beleaguered Singapore Under-22 men’s football team will be hoping to turn their fortunes around at the Asian Football Confederation Under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers from Sept 6 to 12.
After the Young Lions ended their Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign with a 3-0 loss to Geylang International on Saturday for their worst season with just five points from 24 games, Nazri Nasir’s team will depart for Bangkok for a centralised training camp from Monday to Sept 3.
They will also play friendlies against North Bangkok University (Aug 25), Bangkok United (Aug 29) and the Thailand U-23s (Sept 1).
They will then head to Vietnam for the qualifiers against Yemen (Sept 6), Guam (Sept 9) and the hosts (Sept 12), with the 11 group winners and four best runners-up progressing to the U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar in 2024.
Singapore U-22s coach Nazri, who took over the national age-group and SPL sides from Philippe Aw in July, has called up 26 players – 16 from the Young Lions and 10 from other SPL clubs – for the camp and will select 23 for the qualifiers.
While 21-year-old Tanjong Pagar United midfielder Azim Akbar is a new face in the squad, two notable absentees are injured Deinze forward Ilhan Fandi and winger Khairin Nadim, who is two months into his national service vocational training.
Nazri, who has been tracking the players in the SPL and Centre of Excellence Under-21 League, said: “Being prepared is the key to doing well in anything that we try. We achieve success by planning carefully, working hard, and staying committed.
“I have confidence in this group of players as I have seen their passion and commitment levels during the matches.
“The upcoming training camp will give our players a chance to face different types of opponents and use the skills they have been working hard on during training. It would also allow me to see how the team shape up as we prepare to get into competition mode in Hanoi.”
The former national skipper also acknowledged the disastrous SEA Games football campaign in May, when the Singapore U-22s finished last in their group and were mauled 7-0 by Malaysia.
After that failure, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) conducted a review and identified 10 areas to work on for the age-group side.
As part of that process, it will prioritise the SEA Games and AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers, which serve as the Olympic qualifiers.
The team were withdrawn from the 2023 Asean Football Federation U-23 Championship and Asian Games, citing the inability to cope with a hectic schedule with the players’ national service and school commitments.
Nazri added: “(The qualifiers) are a very important tournament for us, but we will not be focusing only on the end result.
“Obviously most of them were part of the recent disappointing SEA Games, hence it is also an opportunity for them, personally and collectively, to apply the learnings over the last few months and show they can compete hard and with heart.”