Singapore is a nice place to visit. Food is good, transport is cheap, weather is hot, steamy and on many an occasion wet.

Words and feature image: Nick Guoth

Yet, Singapore is safe and thus easier for a visiting team searching for acclimatisation to a completely different lifestyle and climate. Playing and living in the tropics is certainly different to Australia or England. Thus, as many opportunities to train or to play under conditions the players will face at tournament level is very welcome.

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When Young Socceroo coach Ante Milicic saw that his boys were to be travelling to Indonesia as part of the AFC Under 19 Championships, using Singapore as a base made sense. Milicic has significant experience of the vicinity, having played for two clubs in Malaysia and also spending some time travelling back and forth to Singapore and Indonesia. He knew what to expect and who to contact.

The Young Socceroos arrived in Singapore mid last week and almost immediately ventured to a warm-up match against the Malaysian League Champions Johor Darul Ta’zim on Thursday evening across the concorse in Johor Bahru. There, they came out victors 2-1 with goals to Gbenga Folami and Joshua Cavallo.

Folami is now with Ipswich Town in the English Championship and was freed from his club early so that he could acclimatise to the southern hemisphere weather. One can see why such a club as Ipswich is interested in him and why he has already made a number of starts for them. Folami is a livewire left-footed winger who likes to take players on and show off his flare and skills.

Yet, flare and skill will not get results against the top teams of Asia and that is something that Milicic and his crew was working on. Teamwork, combinations and adjustment to the climate are the most important elements of the preparation that is on his mind as the Australians now look towards Friday’s opening match against Korea Republic. That will still take time.

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These are a group of players who have not had the chance that many of their opponents have. For they have only been together for a few days and will need to survive on the camaraderie that is evident within all Australian teams when they travel. They play for Australia.

Last night’s trial match in Singapore was no different. Although there were numerous problems evident in the way they played, many concerns should hopefully be ironed out prior to the end of the week. However, the tactics of their opponents, a Singapore Selection made up mainly of U21 players was of significant advantage. The locals harassed the Australians high up the field in a similar way to how the Koreans work and thus the hit out was of great importance.

Thus for Milicic, he was accepting that the championships will be a tough ask and that the boys need to get off to a good start as confidence is very important to a group of players that have not been together for much time. That is why, this game was of significant importance.

The match itself was played at a hectic pace with numerous strong tackles from both sides. No less that five cautions were handed out, four to the Singapore team. One, though, probably should have seen a Singapore player sent off. It was a tackle on midfielder Ramy Najjarine, rather agricultural to say the least and created some push and shove amongst those on the field. Ramy was carried off and the latest is unknown as to if he will be able to play and when.

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The Young Socceroos eventually came out victors 1-0 with a 40th minute goal to Apostolos Stamatelopoulos. There were a number of penalty shouts, two that certainly looked rather good, one to each side. Australian keeper James Delianov also needed to be alert with under five minutes to play and pulled off a superb reflex save to deny the home team equality.

Yet, this was a game that the Australians needed, a hard game with continuous pressing. It was also played in muggy conditions with the temperature still hovering around 32C at the time of kick-off. Much was learnt and hopefully the Young Socceroos will be able to emulate the Joeys and qualify for U20 World Cup next May and June in Poland.

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