Malacca (2 June, 2016): It’s a coy game among the four contenders when the curtains to the inaugural Under-21 Nations Cup are unveiled at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca tomorrow.
Malaysian head coach, Frank Bernhardt, believes the expectations among fans are high but the German welcomes any form of ‘expectation as positive’ sign against Singapore on Friday (kick-off 8.45pm).
On the opposite end, Vietnamese coach Hoang Anh Tuan has bluntly labelled 2015 SEA Games gold medallist Thailand as tournament favourites while the young Lions manager Farehan Hussein was rather coy and diplomatic in the pre-tournament press conference held this morning.
The Singaporeans arrived by bus just in time for lunch on the eve of their encounter against the host, citing a tight S-League schedule which involved almost 16 players in the squad that delayed their departure to Malacca.
Bernhardt finalised his 27-man squad for the campaign last week and named defender Faris Shah Rosli as captain with goalkeeper Muhammad Haziq Nadzli, defenders Dominic Tan (JDT II) and Arif Farhan Mohd Isa (Kedah) and striker Adam Nor Azlin expected to make the first eleven.
Adam comes to the competition with Malaysia Super League and AFC Cup experience for Selangor this season and also having had stints with Harimau Muda in the Europe, Queensland National Premier League and the S. League participations since 2013.
“Expectations are a positive sign and it’s good to have that kind of targets. Just as Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, the Nations Cup 2016 is the stage in setting the goals right for the SEA Games next year,” said Bernhardt. “We give due respect to all the teams here and the boys will need to put up an admirable performance.”
“We have tested our options in friendly matches against Nepal and The Philippines and have assembled players that are at our disposal. There are about six other players who would have made the first team but due to injuries are not here,” said Bernhardt.
Organised by the FA of Malaysia and promoted by leading sports agency MP & Silva, the first edition of the Nations Cup features Under-21 teams from Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The top two teams will advance to the final on June 5.
Singapore manager Farehan is confident of having the ideal blend of players despite the absence of the Fandi brothers – Irfan and Ikhsan who have reported for National Service.
“This tournament is a perfect platform leadimng up to the SEA Games and our approach has not changed since March when we played two friendly matches in Iran. We lost both matches and it was a learning experience. We have enough material in the squad,” said the former national player.
Thailand and Vietnam opening encounter on Friday is expected to go to the wire. Any matches between the two nations are always hotly contested.
As Thai coach, Worrawoot Srimaka, one of the best strikers the Kingdom has ever produced having scoring 27 goals for the national team and also represented Kelantan FA in the Malaysian League (2002-2003), said:
“It won’t be any easy against Vietnam. Our past matches have always been tenaciously fought and I expect the same kind of thrilling atmosphere against Vietnam. We will have our first training session today and take it from there,” he said.
The Thais will be looking at striker Chenrop Samphaodi, who played in the AFC Under-23 Championship this year, for the goals in the Nations Cup.
Vietnamese coach Huang Anh Tuan said there is also a lot of experience in his squad though several youngsters are currently away playing in the J-League, Korean League and also on attachments with the senior team at the ongoing four-nation Aya Bank Cup in Myanmar.
“We have come here with a positive attitude giving our best. I would rate Thailand as favourites. My judgement is based on our previous results against Thailand in senior and junior level tournaments,” said Anh Tuan.
Pushing all these diplomacy talks aside, it’s time to scale in the inaugural Nations Cup and Bernhardt’s Malaysia have the home ground advantage to roar away at the Hang Jebat Stadium.
Tickets will be priced at RM5 for children 12-year-old and below, RM10 for open terrace and RM20 at the Grandstand per match day at Malacca’s Hang Jebat Stadium.
Tickets can be purchased at Ticketpro outlets in Klang Valley and Malacca. More details are available at www.nationscup.asia.