National Teams – Age-group ● Oct 30, 2021
Singapore gear up for Korea battle in final AFC U23 Asian Cup qualifier
Singapore U22 defender Ryhan Stewart, 28 October 2021.
SINGAPORE, 30 OCTOBER 2021 – Buoyed by a 1-0 win over the Philippines, Singapore will need to step up for their biggest challenge of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2022™ Qualifiers on Sunday night.
In their third and final Group H match, the U22s will go up against leaders and defending champions Korea Republic at the Jalan Besar Stadium, with their hopes of qualification still alive.
READ: Singapore U22 Men’s National Team Profiles
Led by national legend Hwang Sun-hong, the Koreans are formidable opposition. The squad has six players from the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup squad that finished runners-up and 11 who play in the K League 1. They have cruised to 3-0 and 6-0 wins over the Philippines and Timor-Leste respectively and in Park Jeong-in, they also have the competition’s current joint-top scorer with four goals.
However, Singapore are adamant that they will not be overawed and have vowed to put up a fight on home soil.
“We all know Korea is one of the best teams in Asia but the team believes in what we can do and every one of us believe in our own abilities,” right-back Ryhan Stewart told FAS.org.sg. “We are just going to go out there, play to our game-plan and try to get a result.”
Echoing his team-mate’s thoughts, midfielder Joel Chew added, “It is going to be tough in all aspects – physically, technically – and we will be pushed more than ever. But I would not say the task is impossible as Philippines managed to hold them goal-less till half-time.
“I believe in how the coaches will set us up tactically and all we have to do is to stick together collectively as a team. As long as we have the belief and everyone works hard together, a positive result is not beyond us.”
The upbeat mood in the Singapore camp comes from Thursday’s solid victory over Philippines, in which they put up a resolute defensive display and did not allow any shot on target. In their opening game on Monday, Timor-Leste held them to a 2-2 draw.
“After the first game, we really wanted to bounce back and get a result for the fans,” said Ryhan, who impressed many with his marauding runs down the right.
“We played with all our hearts and gave everything we could. The communication was excellent between our backline – not just us the defenders but also our goalkeeper Ridhwan Fikri and that played an important role in the win.”
While Korea Republic will be a different preposition, the U22s will be out to display the same type of positive and possession-based football they have dished out so far.
“That is what the coaches have been planting in our heads for a long time now, it is not just about passing at the back and keeping possession, but also try to get forward and play active football,” Ryhan said.
“At the end of the day, we want to play entertaining football for the fans instead of just pumping the ball long or parking the bus, that kind of stuff.”
A standout performer for Singapore in the Qualifiers, Chew has relished the creative license to express himself freely in the attacking third.
“I am so grateful to Coach Nazri Nasir and also Coach Philippe Aw – they know the way I function as a player,” the 21-year-old said. “My approach to the game has always been to go out there and enjoy myself.
“It is still good to have a little bit of nerves and pressure but at the same time, I try not to think so much about that going into a game. I feel that I play my best when I am having fun instead of always pressuring myself that I have to score or get an assist.”
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While the odds seem stacked against them, Ryhan rallied the troops for one last push in Singapore’s bid for a historic first-ever qualification to the finals.
Only the group winners and four best second-placed teams from the 11 groups will advance to the final stage in June 2022. Singapore are currently second in Group H, two points behind Korea.
“We are all hyped up for this game because we still have a real chance of qualifying,” the 21-year-old said. “The recovery process is very important with games every three days and we are very grateful to our backroom staff who have been helping us immensely with things like ice baths and massages.
“Simple things like rest, sleep, hydration and nutrition are very important to make sure we are at 100 per cent. For myself, regardless of whoever we play against, I always give my all on the pitch and try to make those forward runs to help my team.
“We do not want this to be one of the last few times that we play together at this international level and that is something that adds to the team’s motivation. The morale is high and we just cannot wait to get out there to prove ourselves against the defending champions.”