By Marcus Chhan in Jakarta
It was billed as the most critical 72 hours of their football career, and at the end of it four players were picked from 20 to represent SE Asia at the Global Finals of Nike 'The Chance'.
Muhammad Faris bin Ramli (Singapore), Rahmat Che Hashim (Malaysia), Evan Dimas (Indonesia), and Napapon Sripratheep (Thailand) were crowned as the SE Asia winners for Nike's global talent spotting event on Tuesday night in Jarkarta.
They will now get to train under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona's La Masia academy as part of the top 100 players from 55 countries who will all undergo intense training and competition, while being evaluated by a world-class team of coaches and scouts.
"I feel so honoured and so fortunate to get this chance," Muhammad Faris bin Ramli told ESPNSTAR.com.
"I am really looking forward to meeting my idol Lionel Messi. I hope one day I can play like him."
Malaysia's Rahmat Che Hashim echoed the sentiments of his fellow winner of 'The Chance' SE Asia 2012 when asked about which player he was looking forward to meeting the most at the Global Finals.
"Lionel Messi of course!"
"[When I meet him I will say] Hi I am Rahmat from Kelantan!"
Nike says they will also select 16 of the best players from the Global Finals for a training tour where they will square up against academy teams from Manchester United, Juventus and a U.S. Youth National Team during a 4-week tour.
No wonder the players wanted to win so bad on Tuesday.
On Sunday the 20 Regional Finalists touched down in Jakarta and were immediately given the red carpet treatment by Nike, including a customised Player's Bag. The following day they were broken down and built up again via an intense training session led by Nike SPARQ Performance Expert Jason R. Mathews, who brought along the very cool-looking Vapor Strobe Eyewear for everyone to experience sensory training the Nike way.
And when Tuesday arrived, it was time for the players to convert everything they had learned into a performance on the pitch in front of V. Sundramoorthy (Singapore Lions XII head coach), Ong Kim Swee (Malaysia U23 head coach), Widodo Cahyono Putro (Indonesia U21 coach) and Nophodol Pibulvech (Chonburi FA director of football development).
The impressive Gelora Bung Karno was the venue for the final match which saw the 20 Regional Finalists split into two groups of 10. In charge of the Blue team was former Philippines coach Simon McMenemy while ex-Indonesia defender Yeyen Tumena headed up the White team.
Kick-off began with the White team dominating early and they quickly established a 2-0 lead to take into the interval thanks to goals from Napapon Sripratheep and Evan Dimas.
Half-time and after a very animated team-talk pitch-side by McMenemy, the Blue team bossed much of the second-half. McMenemy has been an excellent mentor for the boys at the Regional Finals, a real unsung hero from the entire process. Therefore it was not too surprising to see the Blue team run out eventual 4-3 winners after second half goals from Rainhard Romario, Rahmat Che Hashim (2) and Chitizan Na Bangchang. The White team did managed one second-half goal through a Carlos Goonting spot-kick.
"Based on today's [Tuesday's] match they [the four winners] were outstanding. And they did everything to convince the coaches that they deserve to go to Barcelona," said V. Sundramoorthy, head coach for 'The Chance' Singapore.
Sundramoorthy also rebuffed my question about whether the judging panel were under any pressure to pick a winner from all four of the participating markets - there were four countries in the competition's SE Asia zone and each market could celebrate a winner on Tuesday night.
"No. Basically, we were looking at players who are outstanding and it just happens that they came from four different countries. And we are very happy we have selected four players from different countries," Sundramoorthy insisted.
Quotes of the day:
"I'm very honored to win this and I will definitely do my best in Barcelona. I want to thank Nike for giving me the chance to have this football experience hopefully I will get some good exposure in Barcelona and become a better player" - Muhammad Faris Bin Ramli (20) from Singapore.
"It is unbelievable because this is my second chance as I was called up after one of the original 5 winners was selected to train with the national team. And I am one of the older players here and this is really my last chance. I will give it my best in Barcelona - Rahmat Che Hashim (24) from Malaysia.
"I can't believe that I won because there are so many other better players than me. It's been an amazing experience and I am speechless" - Evan Dimas (17) from Indonesia.
"I didn't think I would win and I'm so pleased this is one of the greatest experiences in my life. I will keep training and keep focus. Thank you Nike, The Chance gives me very valuable experience. I made a lot of friends and it taught me to be a good professional footballer because the coaches' teams are in top level" - Napapon Sripratheep (19) from Thailand.
Watch: Nike 'The Chance' - SEA Regional finals... More Videos
'The Chance' is Nike Football's global competition seeking out the next wave of hungry young footballers.
Nike scouts are on the hunt in more than 50 countries to find 100 potential champions to battle it out at the Global Final in Barcelona.
You can read more stories by ESPNSTAR.com on 'The Chance' by clicking on the links below