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Friday, Jun 6, 2014

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Football: Reunion loss pivotal

The Straits Times | Friday, Jun 6, 2014

File photo of Khairul Amri playing against ATM.

The 0-6 scoreline, as captain on the day Khairul Amri acknowledged, "doesn't look good on paper".

But both he and national coach Bernd Stange believe that Singapore can take plenty away from their hiding at the hands of France's Under-21 side in Reunion Island yesterday morning (Singapore time).

This, despite the result doing little to boost their chances of earning a Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) nod to participate in September's Asian Games.

"The game showed us the level we will need to aim for," Stange, 66, said yesterday. "Such games give us more than friendlies in the region because France have set the standards for many international teams. I would be pleased to play more of these high-level games in preparation for the AFF Suzuki Cup and SEA Games."

LionsXII striker Amri agreed. "0-6 doesn't look good on paper but we have learnt a lot from this game and gained so much experience," he said.

"Games like this will improve our younger boys tremendously; there will be a gradual, step-by-step improvement."

Along with goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, 30, the 29-year-old was among the more senior members of Stange's 18-man squad that travelled to the French island off the south-east coast of Africa.

Also making the trip were the likes of Madhu Mohana and Zulfahmi Arifin, who are age-eligible for the Incheon Asiad, as well as Shakir Hamzah, Faris Ramli and Shahfiq Ghani - all of whom are expected to lead the U-23s' challenge for SEA Games gold on home soil next year.

But they found themselves outclassed by a French side led by midfielder Florian Thauvin, who scored 10 goals for Ligue One outfit Marseille this past season.

The 21-year-old was on target in the 55th minute, firing home from close range to add to first-half strikes by Samuel Umtiti (21st), Paul-Georges Ntep (23rd, 36th) and Kingsley Coman (44th).

Striker Neal Maupay, 17, added a sixth nine minutes later to round off the rout.

"They showed fast passing and combination football, and dominated the game with unbelievable physical power," Stange said of the hosts' performance.

"For the first 20 minutes we matched them but they stepped up with more power and speed and showed us our limits."

Despite the loss, the Football Association of Singapore remains hopeful of sending a team to South Korea in September, where U-23 squads can be augmented with three over-aged players.

The SNOC has set a deadline of Aug 1 for appeals, with the requirement of good results against a side ranked within Asia's top six - a group that currently comprises Iran, Japan, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Australia and Jordan.

Their next shot at impressing selectors is likely to be next month, during the 2015 SEA Games squad's three-match training tour of Austria.

fabiusc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 4, 2014.
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