I want to see that semangat

It will be a baptism of fire for his boys.

But national Under-15 coach Nazri Nasir is confident his charges can give a good account of themselves at this year's Canon Lion City Cup.

The youngsters kick off their tournament on Saturday against Brazilian side Vasco da Gama, who are champions of their U-15 league back home.

Former national skipper Nazri, though, says his boys can handle the Samba boys - if they show enough belief and will to win.

"I always tell my boys they need to believe in their own abilities," said the 41-year-old, who wore the armband for the Lions from 1997 to 2002.

"They need to know they're the best players in Singapore at their level, and that's why I've selected them to be part of this squad.

"They must know that, on the field, you must have that will to win even if your opponents are bigger or stronger."

Nazri proudly declares that he has been trying to mould his side into an image of himself during his playing days - aggressive, competitive and with a never-say-die spirit.

All those qualities will be needed in his boys' bid to overcome the U-15 teams of Vasco and England's Manchester City in Group B, especially as his squad are made up of 14-year-olds and are the youngest side in the competition.

The team's participation in the Lion City Cup is part of long-term preparation for regional tournaments next year.

Despite the fact his side are likely to be physically inferior to their older European and South American opponents, Nazri believes his charges can give them a run for their money.

Exposure

He said: "This tournament is basically giving the players exposure, having them learn to play against teams with different styles - the physicality of City and the skill of Vasco.

"But I also want the boys to show heart, to show the fans that we will fight for every ball, 50-50 tackles... even 40-60 tackles.

"That's what the fans want. That semangat (fighting spirit), you know? And that's what I want too." Nazri's players are certainly raring to go.

"We're just really excited and we can't wait for the tournament to start," said the 1.55m-tall striker Hami Syahin.

"I hope I can score a few goals, and we can make it out of the group stage and into the semi-finals."

Winger Jordan Chan added: "We know there will be pressure and expectation on us, but we just can't wait to go out there and do our best."

Nazri and his team have been in centralised training - a first for the whole squad - since last Tuesday at the Singapore Sports School, and the coach has been happy with the preparations for the tournament.

"For me, centralised training is not a time to lanyak (torture) the players every day," he said. "For example, after a friendly match last Wednesday, we went to the beach. Some parents joined in and we had a potluck dinner.

"Of course, the training sessions are intense and I demand a lot of them on the pitch, but I also want to make sure the boys are in the right frame of mind."

Nazri has been closely monitoring his boys and says he has gained a lot of insight from seeing them up-close, 24/7.

And he's confident that they're ready for the tests that await them in the Lion City Cup.

He said: "I know it's going to be difficult because we're playing against players with two years' more experience and maturity, but I don't want to make it an excuse.

"The thought of us getting whacked has never crossed my mind because, as I said, I believe in my boys. And I have no doubt we'll give a good fight.

msazali@sph.com.sg  

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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