|FROM JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Teng Kiat
The Manchester United Under-19s clinched third place in the inaugural NexLions Cup earlier this evening with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over a determined Singapore Youth Selection side.
Striker Sahil Suhaimi put the hosts ahead from the spot early in the second half, but two quickfire goals saw the visitors overturn the deficit.
United got off to a strong start as midfielder James Weir clipped a shot against the post within the first minute. Skipper Raihan Rahman got his side’s first shot on target, as his 30-yard pile-driver stung the palms of United goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini.
Singapore took the lead in the 53rd minute when a penalty was awarded for a push by Declan Dalley on Sahil. The striker picked himself up to coolly send Gollini the wrong way from the spot.
The visitors hit back with two goals in three minutes though in the 66th and 69th minutes. First, Shakir Hamzah turned Mats Daehli’s low cross into his own net, before Daehli then produced a calm finish from an unmarked position in the box to put United ahead.
That was enough to seal victory for Paul McGuinness’s boys, and the coach claimed after the match that they could take a “whole host of positives” from the tournament.
“We are preparing our players to move towards the first-team, so this is a simulation of first-team events…such as playing preseason games and playing in this heat and so on, so it’s a simulation of what could happen for them in the future,” he explained.
McGuinness also elaborated on the importance of having a strong mentality, which playing against different opposition helped to build.
“The biggest thing is the physical discomfort, and having to push yourself through that - the mental toughness to go through that sort of discomfort and still play is what our players need more of,” he said.
“And that’s what you need: to play at top-level football, you have to play when you are uncomfortable.”
The United U18 head coach also praised Daehli as a ‘very dedicated’ player, and singled out Jack Barmby as someone who ‘needs to push himself more’ to have a shot at first-team football.
Singapore Selection head coach Aide Iskandar gave credit to his opponents for coming back, but pointed out that his team had very little time to prepare for the tournament.
“Most of the boys did their best, [but] I have to clearly say we only had three and a half weeks to prepare whereas United and the other teams have been together for the rest of their lives since young,” he said.
“I think physically they are very prepared for these tournaments, and they are also at a stage where they are in the middle of their league.
“With our two performances we [have] showed that we were able to compete against them, and we are able to compete against the top European teams and we should be looking to play more tournaments like this.”