Stange: We were simply outclassed
Stange admits gulf in standards but says Lions will improve with more exposure against top teams
(Mu Kanazaki 20, Keisuke Honda 26, Maya Yoshida 87)
In the end, there was not much more national coach Bernd Stange could do than to hold his hands up and acknowledge his Lions were simply second-best.
Singapore were outclassed 3-0 by Japan in their World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier at the National Stadium last night, and the Samurai Blue did not even have to get out of second gear to chalk up the comfortable victory in front of 33,868 fans.
After a headline-grabbing 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture in Saitama in June, there were some among the local faithful who might have hoped for another shock result last night.
But a look at the teamsheets before the match showed how much quality the Asian powerhouses possessed.
Coach Vahid Halilhodzic could afford to leave two of his star forwards in Borussia Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa and Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki on the bench, and still put out a team that boasted eight European-based players from clubs such as AC Milan and Inter Milan.
And, by the end of the game, the statistics said it all: 23 attempts for Japan (with 15 of them on target) and just two for the home team (with none testing the Japanese goalkeeper).
After the match, Stange admitted the gulf in quality between the two sides.
"I want to give my special thanks to all my players - they gave their best today," said the 66-year-old German.
"But our best was not good enough to beat this strong Japanese team.
"It was the correct result. There was no chance for us.
"From the first minute, they hunted us left to right with a short passing game, splitting passes through the middle and put us under enormous pressure.
"It's not very nice to lose a home game 3-0, but we must respect the performance of the Japanese team."
The former Belarus and Iraq coach, however, singled out three Lions - goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and midfielders Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin - for praise.
He added that the trio, and the rest of the team, need more matches against top-level opposition like Japan in order to improve.
"To make a better national team, you need more players, you need more international experience," said Stange.
"You cannot imagine how happy I am to have such a match against Japan today... Playing football, passing game, dominating, splitting passes, no crosses when nobody is in the box.
"The players have to learn."
Last night's result leaves Singapore in third place in Group E on 10 points, behind leaders Japan on 13 points and second-placed Syria - whom they will play on Tuesday - on 12 points.
Only the group winners and the top four runners-up from the eight qualifying groups achieve automatic qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup.
But the realistic goal is to secure their progress to the next round of Asian Cup qualifiers by finishing third.
Stange is confident of holding on to third place in Group E and achieving just that, saying: "This team will grow, will be older because the (next round of Asian Cup qualifiers) starts in 2017.
"That means our team will grow.
"We have to find a way to give our team more of this (level of) international experience.
"It's not enough to play in the Malaysian League alone. We will find a way."
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic said his team took their foot off the pedal in the second half, but reserved praise for Izwan, noting how he made no less than 30 saves in the two qualifying games against his side.
But the 63-year-old former Yugoslavia international quipped: "I was a forward as a player, and I never missed so many chances as (our strikers).
"But we will continue trying to progress individually and, as a team, and I am here to try do that."
He believes the Lions have enough in them to qualify for the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates in four years' time.
"I know Singapore will play Syria (on Tuesday) and, if they win, they have a chance to qualify for the Asian Cup," said Halilhodzic.
"They have good qualities. For example, the goalkeeper has good quality, and I know they have a forward (injured Khairul Amri) who didn't play today, who is a very good player.
"Playing at home, Singapore must win the next game if they want to qualify."
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH
IZWAN MAHBUD (above)
Faultless for the three goals Singapore conceded, the 25-year-old shot-stopper again stole the show against Japan.
Made several superb saves to deny the Samurai Blue a handsome win, and was even personally congratulated by their coach Vahid Halilhodzic after the game.
S'PORE - JAPAN
2 Total Shots 23
0 On Target 15
2 Off Target 8
1 Offsides 4
3 Corners 5
2 Yellow cards 1
TEAMS & PLAYERS' RATINGS
- SINGAPORE: Izwan Mahbud 9, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 6, Madhu Mohana 6.5, Baihakki Khaizan 6.5, Shakir Hamzah 6, Izzdin Shafiq 6, Hariss Harun 8, Faris Ramli 6 (Christopher van Huizen, 81), Safuwan Baharudin 6.5 (Zulfahmi Arifin, 90), Hafiz Abu Sujad 7, Fazrul Nawaz 6 (Sahil Suhaimi 46, 6.5)
- JAPAN: Shusaku Nishikawa, Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Masato Morishige, Yuta Nagatomo, Makoto Hasebe, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Keisuke Honda (Genki Haraguchi 83), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Shinji Kagawa 75), Yoshinori Muto (Takashi Usami 70), Mu Kanazaki
- Attendance: 33,868
- Referee: Fahad Al Mirdasi (Saudi Arabia)