Openers unearth rising stars

Hosts Singapore and Bolivia lived up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites as they each registered an opening win at the Jalan Besar Stadium in the opening day of the Boy’s Youth Olympic Football Tournament. And in many ways the day belonged to the no17s from each side, with the two lively strikers setting the world stage alight with their unique ability in front of the goal.

First to shine was Bolivia forward Luis Banegas, who found the net only two minutes after coming on as a substitute. Going into the match against Vanuatu nursing a slight knee injury, the Real America wunderkind warmed the bench for the opening half as his side took a 1-0 lead through Carlos Anez’s spot-kick.

I always want to surprise my opponents by suddenly surging forward and finishing in the area.

Sent on after the restart to form a three-man attacking unit alongside Jorge Alpire and Rodrigo Mejido, the robust 14-year-old doubled the lead with almost his first touch of the ball when he ran onto Yasser Manzur pass to slot home. The substitute went on to shine in the remaining minutes, even hitting the crossbar with a header.

“I always want to surprise my opponents by suddenly surging forward and finishing in the area,” Banegas told “I have made a lot of effort in training to develop into a classic penalty-box striker.” Having said that, when asked if he models his game on former Brazilian star Romario, he simply shook his head. “My idol is Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Barcelona. I want to be a striker like him and when I grow up, I want to move to a good European club like Barcelona.”

Two-goal heroAt just 159cm, Singapore’s Muhaimin Suhaimi grabbed the attention with his uncanny knack for scoring goals. His first came after 11 minutes, when he was sent clear by a teammate surging down the right. Facing the onrushing Zimbabwean goalkeeper, the audacious teenager flashed a diagonal shot which flew home off Fungai Benard's hand. He showcased his lethal nose for goal with his second strike when the diminutive forward got himself in front of a host defenders to head home Hanafi Mohd’s free-kick.

“He should be tonight’s brightest star,” Singapore coach Sadir Yahaya was quick to pay tribute to the baby-face goal-getter. “He may be small in size, but his skill and techniques are second to none. But he is still young and there is much room for him to improve.”

Surrounded by a crowded of journalists and facing an agitated sea of adoring fans, Suhaimi dedicated his two goals to the team's first coach David Sivalingam, who passed away last year. “It was coach Sivalingam who first spotted me and provided me with this opportunity to feature in the team,” he said. “For me, playing well and getting a good result is the best way to remember him.”