|By Kenneth Tan
There is no competition bridging the gap between the Under-16 Lion City Cup and the Under-23 SEA Games level. Hence the Under-19 NexLions Cup serves as ideal preparations for Singapore's target of a football gold medal at the SEA Games in 2015.
That was the key message sent out by the Singapore Selection coach Aide Iskandar when he spoke at the NexLions pre-tournament press conference yesterday at the Singapore Flyer VIP Lounge.
“NexLions Cup is a good platform to give the boys exposure at this age,” said the former national skipper.
“I wish I had the chance to play in this type of competitions when I was 19.
"After the Lion City Cup, the boys don’t have international tournaments to look forward to until the SEA Games next year. The gap is too far and this competition will help to bridge the gap.
"The majority of them qualify to play in the 2015 SEA games and I hope that this team can be kept together for the next couple of years. This will be in line with FAS’ target to try and win the competition.
It has not been an easy journey for Aide, having had to make the decision to cut the squad down to 25 players and integrate all of them to play as a team in the space of four short weeks.
However, he is optimistic of the challenges ahead.
“I’m looking forward to this actually, this is the first time we’re integrating the NFA U17s, U18s, Young Lions, LionsXII and a couple of Prime League players together," he added.
"The boys have been training for the past month. Preparations were not the best, the numbers I always get are odd numbers, it’s never complete as some of them have to go for National Service.
"The rest of the three teams have played together for many years unlike us, however I have to make do with the best I have, and the boys know what is at stake. It’s a great platform to showcase their talents and it’s a rare opportunity to play against the likes of Adam Morgan and Samed Yesil.
"The idea is to get them exposed to playing against top teams and they know they have to up their performances against a side like Liverpool and in order to attract the fans.”
With 25 players itching to grab an opportunity to play against top-level European players, there is the inevitable fact that a number of them will feel left out of the party.
However Aide is confident that every single one of them will have something to take away from the two matches to be played.
“I have no complaints so far," said the former Hougang United coach.
"Once the 25 of them were selected, they have shown good attitude. I told them that they’re actually giving me a good headache because this is a very well-balanced team.
"There is a bit of good competitiveness amongst the boys and they’re showing it in training."
Aide also believes he has made a excellent decision in installing LionsXII player Raihan Rahman as skipper, adding: "Raihan has shown great commitment and discipline throughout. With his competitive style of player, he's the sort of player I'm looking at to lead the team and I think he has the ability to rally the boys."
"I hope I can grow with this team. After preparing them for four weeks, I believe we do have talents in our youth system, we have a good bunch of players here who are actually future national team players.
"I've prepared them mentally, physically and tactically. Hopefully they'll go out there to learn as much as they can from the experience."