SINGAPORE: The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is facing a race against time in its bid to justify the national under-23 team's inclusion in the Asian Games.
The football team failed to make the list of athletes that got the nod from the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) selection committee to compete in the upcoming Asian Games.
SNOC confirmed to Channel NewsAsia in an email on Thursday (May 31) that the team were not selected as "they did not meet the selection criteria".
"National Sports Associations who are keen to submit new results for the committee's consideration may do so before Jun 15, 2018," said SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan.
To be included in the Singapore contingent, the team have to match the top-six result at a previous Asian Games, or beat opponents ranked at least sixth in Asia.
The FAS had been in this situation before. The football team were omitted in the previous edition of the Games in 2014, but were included after the under-23s beat Bahrain 3-2.
This time, however, the clock is ticking for the FAS to mount a successful appeal as it is struggling to find opponents for a friendly match.
"We had reached out to other associations for friendly matches as early as six or seven months ago," FAS' head of national teams management Eric Ong told Channel NewsAsia on Thursday.
"Most of them said that they were unable to play outside of the FIFA international window. That's the challenge we are facing and we have limited options."
Associations are unable to call up players outside of the FIFA international window, explained Mr Ong, which means that most countries will be unable to form a team. He added that FAS has reached out to at least seven associations whose teams fit the criteria set by SNOC.
In the first FIFA international window this year, the Singapore U-23 team played against Indonesia and lost 3-0. The next window falls only in September because of the World Cup.
"We will see if we can arrange something in the next couple of weeks (before the Jun 15 deadline). But it may well be after that. If that happens, we will go back to the SNOC and inform them that we have something on the table," said Mr Ong.
LOOK AT DEVELOPMENT, NOT JUST RESULTS
Should the FAS fail to find a suitable team for a friendly match, Mr Ong is hoping that SNOC will look past the selection criteria and see the improvements that the football team have been making in the last few months.
"We are looking at how the team have developed since the start of the year. It is a marked improvement compared to the Young Lions in the last few years," said Mr Ong, pointing out that the Young Lions are now in the top four of the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
The Young Lions finished bottom of the table in the previous two seasons of what was then known as the S.League. This year, the revamped league requires the local clubs to have at least six under-23 footballers in their squad, with a minimum of three to feature in the starting 11 in every game.
"They have showed the fighting spirit and determination," added Mr Ong. "We went to the 2018 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy, made it to the semi-finals and came in joint-third.
"In terms of friendly matches, we are playing without overaged players. We are able to bring three of them for the Asian Games and those players in key positions will make a big difference."
In 2014, the Young Lions were eliminated at the group stage after losing narrowly to Tajikistan, holding Oman to a draw and beating Palestine.