National Teams – Age-group ● Sep 02, 2023
Nathan Mao’s double steers Singapore into Lion City Cup 2023 final
Nathan Mao poses for the camera after scoring his first goal of the match, September 2023.
SINGAPORE, 2 SEPTEMBER 2023 – “Nathan Mao! Nathan Mao! Nathan Mao!” One could hear the 1530-strong crowd chanting loudly for the 15-year-old forward, who emerged as the hero of the hour at the Lion City Cup semi-final against Malaysia’s Selangor F.C. Nathan, had already made history as the youngest debutant in Singapore Premier League (SPL) earlier this year. He was touted to be one of the players to watch, and he duly delivered. The teenager netted a brilliant brace, securing the NDC Under-15 boys a ticket to the Lion City Cup 2023 final.
From the kickoff, the Cubs displayed unwavering determination, dominating every aspect of the game. Employing a well-organised counter-attacking strategy, their aggression paid dividends early on. In the 6th minute, midfielder Harith Danish Irwan executed a pinpoint curling pass to forward Uchenna Eziakor, who controlled the ball masterfully. With a swift shot, Nathan pounced on the opportunity, delivering a mesmerising one-touch finish.
Uchenna Eziakor in action, September 2023.
Despite their dominance, the NDC U-15 boys faced difficulties converting their tenacity into goals for about 30 minutes. Selangor’s goalkeeper Muhammad Zulfan Iqbal made a series of good saves, denying Singapore on multiple occasions.
However, their relentless pressing eventually paid off. A moment of brilliance from Harith, typically right-footed but this time nimble with his left, saw him curling a ball that slipped through the keeper’s fingers. Nathan seized the moment, capitalising on the error to find the back of the net. Despite sustained pressure, the first half ended with Singapore leading 2-0.
Harith Danish Irwan on the ball as Selangor FC captain Rayyan Danial Suhaimy follows closely behind, September 2023.
While the NDC U-15 boys started the second half with the same determination, Selangor began to exert pressure, gradually wearing down the Singaporean squad. A series of unfortunate events plagued the team, with defender Dani Qalish being stretchered off due to a muscle strain in the 64th minute, and substitute Kieran Tan receiving a yellow card for a handball in the 67th minute. The team also continued to push for additional goals but faced a resolute Selangor defense.
Sarrvin Raj in action, with Selangor FC’s Muhammad Shazwan Zamri, September 2023.
Head Coach Angel Toledano made the decisions to introduce three substitutions to the mix as he strove to inject renewed energy into the team, in a bid to break down Selangor’s resilience. In the 75th minute, forward Sarrvin Raj, who had captivated the crowd with his mesmerising speed and dribbling throughout the match, made an audacious attempt with a deft lob, which narrowly missed the mark. It was the final contribution of his impressive performance on the pitch, as he was subsequently substituted for fellow forward Helmi Shahrol.
Helmi did not take long to leave his mark as Nathan took on the role of a supplier this time. He delivered a sublime curved assist from the left that paved the way for Helmi to execute a composed finish, all transpiring just 17 seconds after the substitution. Pumped up, the NDC U-15 boys resumed their high-pressing approach, and managed to keep their opponents at bay. Nevertheless, Selangor managed to salvage some pride with a consolation goal in extra time, headed in from a corner kick by midfielder Vincenzo Oliveo Dozzel.
Helmi Shahrol celebrates after scoring a goal 17 seconds into his substitution, September 2023.
In the post-match press conference, Coach Angel expressed his pride in the team’s performance, emphasising their hard work and adaptability in keeping to a game model of possession, dominance, attacking, and defensive discipline: “The result does not matter in the end, I just wanted our boys to play their best and compete at every single match, and today they did. I’m glad that the result reflected our efforts.”
Coach Angel also lauded the star of the match, Nathan, stating, “With or without the ball, Nathan played a good game. The team needed a goal, and he delivered with clinical finishing.”
Head Coach Angel Toledano and the Man-of-the-Match Nathan Mao at the post-match press conference, September 2023.
Nathan remained optimistic about their chances in the final: “We know we have a good chance if we play like this.” Coach Angel echoed the sentiment, acknowledging that BG Pathum United, their upcoming opponents in the finals, would be a tough challenge but expressing belief in his talented squad: “We’ll try to put the strongest team possible in the final because we really want to win the Lion City Cup. At the end of the day, I told the boys our objective is for Singaporean fans to believe in these boys because I think the future is bright.”
When asked by the media about his breakthrough year, Nathan, ever humble, said: “I’ve done okay so far, and I’m hopeful that in the next few years I’ll keep on working hard and not rest on my laurels.”
In an earlier match, BG Pathum advanced to the final after an own goal by Borneo F.C. Samarinda by Mohammad Abdu Sultoni nine minutes into the match and a late strike four minutes into stoppage time by midfielder Chaiwat Khamta. BG Pathum will face Singapore in the final on Sunday 3 September 2023 at 8pm, while Borneo and Selangor FC will compete for the third position at 5pm.
NDC U-15: Jarec Ng, Luth Harith Fathi (Ahmad Martin Roslan 88’), Ahmad Ilhan Rizqullah, Illya Naufal (Kieran Tan 64’), Andy Reefqy (Jaden Heng 46’), Harith Danish Irwan, Uchenna Eziakor (Aqif Ariyan 64’), Dani Qalish (Shafrel Ariel 64’), Rae Peh (Nyqil Iyyan 64’), Nathan Mao, Sarrvin Raj (Helmi Shahrol 77’)
Subs: Noor Aydrin (GK), Uday Goshal, Damien Chiow, Jadon Quah
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