By Kenneth Tan
After the AFF Suzuki Cup triumph late last year, there was no doubt what the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) would target in 2013 – the elusive gold medal at the SEA Games in Myanmar at the end of the year.
The bulk of the 2012 Courts Young Lions squad were fast-tracked into the LionsXII team to gain experience through playing in the Malaysian Super League, including key players like former captain Hafiz Sujad, Shahfiq Ghani and Faritz Hameed.
That meant the 2013 squad would sport a fresh look, with only three players over the age of 21 and Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman succeeding Hafiz as skipper.
The 21-year-old, now into his third season with the club, is relishing his new role and has urged his teammates to fight for their places to represent the nation at the end of the year.
“It’s a honour and also a challenge for me to be captain of this team,” he told Goal.com Singapore.
“Normally I’m the player taking instructions from the captain, but this year I have to lead by example. I’m aware of my new responsibilities especially in leading such a young team. I hope I’ll be able to bond the guys together without us having different cliques.
"Apart from performing better than my past two seasons, my role now is to motivate the whole team to fight for places in the SEA Games squad. People have been talking about the LionsXII but I feel that our boys also have an equal chance of being selected.”
Having had experience leading a Singapore team in the AFC Under-22 qualifiers last year, it was not surprising that Aide sees the leadership qualities in Al-Qaasimy and the latter is excited to be under the stewardship of his childhood hero.
“I’m looking forward to working with him (Aide),” he said. “He’s the kind of coach who’s calm, relaxed and has leadership qualities.
"As a player, he skippered the national team in various ASEAN competitions [and] I was there at Kallang Stadium in 2004 when he lifted the Tiger Cup after our win over Indonesia in the final.
"I have a lot to learn under him indeed.”
The addition of new faces like Sahil Suhaimi, Stanely Ng, Ignatius Ang and Farhan Rahmat represented a reunion of sorts for Al-Qaasimy, with these players in his batch of Sports School teammates years ago.
“It’s nice to finally be back with them,” he said.
“Sahil, Stanely, Ignatius, Farhan, (Sheikh Abdul Hadi) Hadi, Shamil (Shamil Sharif) and even Faiz Salleh, who not many people know of, they have all been team-mates since my Sports School days.
"We were the second batch to graduate. After the NFA U-18 level, things like school, National Service and transfers meant all of us were separated until now and I’m really excited to play together with them.”
And he hopes that the chemistry will be able to propel them to a better placing in 2013 – the Young Lions finished ninth last year.
“It’s exciting for us this year, there’ll be no pressure on us but we will target to finish better than last season," Al-Qaasimy asserted.