YOUNG Lions coach Aide Iskandar trimmed his SEA Games squad from 29 to 20 players last night, omitting the likes of Christopher van Huizen and and Iqbal Hussein.
Aide, 40, made the cut after assessing the entire squad in the past month. The selection assessment included a centralised training stint at the Singapore Sports School, a one-week training stint in Japan and two international friendlies against the Laos and Timor Leste Under-23 sides.
He said: “My coaches and I had sleepless nights over it. It was a very close call for the nine players who were dropped, because competition for their positions was very tight.”
Significant omissions include winger van Huizen, who was a member of the recent LionsXII Malaysian FA Cup-winning campaign, and forward Iqbal, who recently captained Singapore at the AFC U-23 Championship.
Aide, who also coached the Young Lions to a bronze in the 2013 Games, believes that his final choices are adequately prepared ahead of their opening match against the Philippines on Monday, but cautioned that the hardest work still lay ahead.
“We had a good final preparation phase which really helped to raise the fitness levels of the players, and the boys are now working hard to reach their peak,” he said.
“However, they are aware that this is just the beginning of the final lap of their SEA Games journey, and that they have to remained focused and disciplined.”
The former national captain had encouraging words for the nine players who did not make the cut, saying: “It does not mean that their playing careers are over just because they did not make it to the SEA Games squad.”
Besides the Philippines, Singapore are grouped with Myanmar, Indonesia and Cambodia.
There had been uncertainty over Indonesia’s participation because of its government’s interference in the country’s football association (PSSI). But The Straits Times understands that, as of last night, the Indonesian government had lifted its ban on the PSSI and Fifa is set to rule on the team’s SEA Games involvement tomorrow.
LOW JAY SEN