Singapore's Under-23 team were handed a relatively straightforward group in the SEA Games football tournament draw held on Wednesday afternoon.
The Young Lions will have an opportunity to exact revenge on their Cambodian counterparts, after surprisingly losing their last encounter 1-3 in March.
They are grouped together with Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines and Cambodia in Group A, with fixtures to be played at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Meanwhile, defending champions Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam are pooled in the “Group of Death” alongside Brunei, Timor Leste and Laos in Group B, with matches in this pool to be held at Bishan Stadium.
Young Lions head coach Aide Iskandar feels there are no easy opponents in the upcoming Games though, which the Republic are hosting for the first time in 22 years.
“Cambodia are no longer the whipping boys that they used to be, so we won’t have any easy games in the tournament,” the former national captain said.
“We will take it one game at a time and work hard to win the first game of the Games, which is the most important [and immediate] objective.”
To prepare for the tournament, the majority of the Under-23 squad have been training regularly together for the last few years.
Aside from participation in the domestic S.League, they have also joined overseas tournaments and embarked on training stints.
Forward Iqbal Hussain feels the time spent training, playing and bonding together has made the Young Lions a more cohesive unit as they prepare to carry the nation's hopes in June.
“We have been training together for the past two to three years,” the 21-year-old said.
“From what I am observing, our sense of maturity is growing and we have grown together from strength to strength.
“It has been a tremendous period of exposure for us to be playing against quality teams, especially those from Europe, who are physically and mentally stronger than us.”
With the Games around the corner, Aide has called on Singaporeans to be the twelfth man as they kick off their campaign.
“Our boys will need our home support as it will help to boost their morale with our people making the difference on the stands,” he said.
The Under-23s will enter the final phase of preparation next month with several warm-up games at home and overseas before they commence their campaign on home soil.
The football tournament will officially commence with Group B matches on 29 May, while Group A fixtures kick off on 1 June ahead of the opening ceremony on 5 June. The first round fixtures will be released in due course.
The first round will be played at Jalan Besar and Bishan, before moving on to the National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub for the semi-final and final stages.
SEA Games 30-player shortlist
*All Courts Young Lions unless otherwise stated
Syazwan Buhari, Fashah Iskandar, Rudy Khairullah
Shakir Hamzah, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Fadli Kamis, Amirul Adli, Irfan Fandi, Taufiq Muqminin, Zakir Samsudin (LionsXII), Nurullah Hussein (Balestier Khalsa), Ho Wai Loon (Balestier Khalsa)
Faris Ramli (LionsXII), Safirul Sulaiman, Stanely Ng (Home United), Anumanthan Mohan Kumar, Shamil Sharif, Adam Swandi, Muhaimin Suhaimi (Home United), Shameer Aziq, Afiq Mat Noor, Christopher van Huizen (LionsXII), Suria Prakash, Pravin Guanasagaran
Shahfiq Ghani, Sahil Suhaimi (LionsXII), Iqbal Hussain, Amy Recha Pristifana, Taufik Suparno (Tampines Rovers)comments