The Lion City Sailors Elite Under-14 team recently showcased their prowess in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from November 16 to 20, making a lasting impression on the first-ever XO Siem Reap International Youth Cup. Amidst formidable opponents like Chonburi FC, Siem Reap United, and Visakha FC, the young Sailors demonstrated remarkable skill, securing a commendable second place in their group. Their performance included one victory, one draw, and one loss in a series of competitive matches, reflecting their resilience and potential on the international youth football stage.

Taking place from November 17 to 19, 2023, this tournament signified Siem Reap United's inaugural foray into organising a youth football competition, with the matches unfolding at Hanuman Stadium.

The young Sailors embarked on a journey to Cambodia from November 16 to 20, experiencing not only the thrill of competition but also the rich cultural tapestry of the host country. 

Coach Danilo Tešić expressed satisfaction with the team's performance, stating, "the matches and playing styles we encountered were unfamiliar in Singapore. Observing the boys embrace the challenge filled me with pride, particularly in our adeptness at adjusting to our opponents' tactics on the field."

"We refrained from conducting an in-depth analysis of our opponents' matches, choosing to prioritise our own game," added the thirty-one-year-old.

"Despite facing adversaries with a size advantage and good technical skills, we adhered to our strategy and executed it effectively. The boys displayed exceptional resilience, consistently motivating each other to strive for improvement," emphasised the Serbian coach.

“The exposure to different styles of play and the challenges posed by opponents from varied backgrounds are seen as crucial factors in their development.”

Aaditya Rao and Mohammad Farrel Bin Mohammad Farhan, players from the team, looked back fondly on their experience in Cambodia.

"As I embarked on this journey, my expectations were centred around a heightened level of professionalism from all participants. This competition turned out to be one of the most competitive tournaments I've been a part of. I believe the experience significantly enhanced my game, elevating both my game intelligence and match awareness," shared Aaditya.

"I encountered formidable opponents who played with intense energy, engaging in highly competitive matches that truly tested both our abilities as a team and as individuals. These kinds of trips contribute immensely to our development as players, providing challenges both physically and mentally. I was genuinely excited to participate when I first learned about the trip," expressed 14-year-old Farrel.

Aaditya emphasised that the trip transcended the realm of football, providing him with valuable insights into Cambodia's culture. He highlighted the significance of cultural exchange in youth sports programs, mentioning, "throughout this journey, I gained a profound understanding of Cambodia, delving not only into football but also immersing myself in the rich cultural identity and history, including aspects of agriculture and infrastructure."

“The journey became a treasure trove of unforgettable moments for these young athletes. The jubilant celebrations in the locker room following a hard-fought victory against Siem Reap United and the sheer joy experienced during tuk-tuk rides through the bustling city streets have etched memories that will resonate with these players for a lifetime,” added Coach Danilo.

The team seized the opportunity to explore Cambodia's diverse culinary offerings. Trying Cambodian Muslim food and a unique Cambodian tea became cherished experiences for the players, broadening their palates and fostering a sense of appreciation for the local culture.

Farrel underscored the respectful demeanour of the locals, emphasising the warm reception that the team experienced throughout their stay in Cambodia.

"The locals have treated us with remarkable respect and courtesy. Their genuine friendliness has not only enriched our time here but has also fostered a deeper connection with the local culture. This mutual understanding and appreciation have strengthened our bond with the community," he shared.

This cultural exchange further enriched the players' understanding of the global community.

Now back in Singapore, Aaditya, who is looking forward to stepping out with the team when the PUMA Youth Champions League kicks off in February 2024,  conveyed his conviction that engaging in additional international competitions would significantly contribute to the team's overall growth as players.

"I hope for more opportunities like these competitions, enabling us to garner increased exposure to overseas teams and contend with stronger opponents,” said Aaditya.

“Such experiences are pivotal in our journey towards becoming a stronger team. I am eagerly anticipating and looking forward to more of these enriching camps.”