National Teams – Age-group ● Feb 19, 2022
Another uphill battle for the U23s
The Singapore team on 16 February 2022. (Photo: SPORTFIVE)
PHNOM PENH, 19 FEBRUARY 2022 – The Singapore Men’s Under-23 National Team must win their last Group C match against Vietnam tonight to have a good shot at reaching the ASEAN Football Federation U23 Championship 2022 semi-finals.
However, the team faces an uphill battle as Head Coach Nazri Nasir will be without 10 players – including team captain Jacob Mahler – due to a combination of Covid-19 and injuries that leaves him with only three fit substitutes – two of which are goalkeepers – for tonight’s clash at the Prince Stadium.
Team captain Jacob Mahler has been ruled out of the tournament after testing positive for Covid-19.
The team had already suffered disruptions prior to the first match against Thailand – 3-1 defeat – on Saturday, as seven players were not medically cleared to either travel to Cambodia or leave the local quarantine facility here. To compound matters, Mahler and Nicky Melvin Singh returned positive Covid-19 results this morning from a mandatory polymerase chain reaction test conducted yesterday afternoon. Defender Danish Irfan has also been ruled out after picking up an injury against Thailand.
Yet, Coach Nazri remains upbeat and knows his charges will not give up and show the same fighting spirit that was on display against the Thais.
He said: “It is unfortunate that we are in this situation. But I know the boys will play hard for their teammates who are recovering, and for their loved ones back home. I am so proud of their performance against the Thais and I know they will not allow the Vietnamese team to bully them.”
Vietnam will go into the contest as favourites, having trained for over a month in preparation for the tournament. Made up of U21 players who were picked based on their performance in the Vietnam U21 National Championship, Head Coach Dinh The Nam said that they will use this tournament to prepare for the upcoming Southeast Asian Games taking place in Hanoi in May. While the tactician feels that Vietnam has enough firepower in attack to trouble any opposition, he remains concerned by an inexperienced backline.
As this will be the Vietnamese’ first match of the tournament, forward Ilhan Fandi wants his side to pressure them from kick off.
“The first match of every tournament is challenging for any team as they do not have any momentum,” he said. “Some players may be nervous too, especially in the first 15 minutes. So we must press them from the get-go and try to get the early goal to put pressure on them. This will open up more space for our wingers and me to attack and hopefully create some scoring opportunities. But we must also be wary as the Vietnamese will be raring to go, so we must be switched-on throughout the game.”
Ilhan Fandi (R) celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Thailand on 16 February 2022.
Having already scored a goal against Thailand, Ilhan is determined to add to his goal tally against the Vietnamese.
“When the ball looped over the keeper and entered the net, the sheer joy I felt was something I missed as I have not played a competitive game for a long time,” he recounted. “It is a feeling that is almost addictive, and it drives me to score more goals.
“I also know how significant it would be if the team wins. Everyone has gone through a challenging time here in Cambodia, especially the boys affected with Covid-19 and the backroom staff who have been working tirelessly to ensure we are well taken care of. I want to win the game for them, and to bring some joy to the team.”