Defiant Stange refuses to be negative
Lions coach praises his players, urges everyone to pull in same direction
(Safuwan Baharudin 89-pen)
(Omar Khribin 20, 90+3)
Even after seeing most of his Lions underperform and lose, albeit to a Syria team 20 places above them in the Fifa rankings, national coach Bernd Stange remained defiant.
He insisted the Lions are on the right track.
"I will not allow anyone to be negative about our performance today, not today, because we cannot deliver anything more at this stage that we are," declared the 67-year-old German after the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifier last night.
"We did everything right but... we are unable to bring the 1-1 home. A few seconds, a minute, we missed, and that's the international standard. We have to learn and improve.
"All players gave 100 per cent, they gave what they have in terms of their mind, fitness and ability, exactly what I wanted.
"They were able to deliver, but the qualities of a few teams are too good for us.
"We are third in the table and still on track for the 2019 Asian Cup, so I want everyone to be positive to help us get there."
However, as is increasingly apparent in recent international matches, especially at home, only a handful of Lions showed up when it mattered.
While the Lions impressed with a counter-attacking game in the 1-0 defeat by Syria in Oman, and even beat them 2-1 at Jalan Besar two years ago, they struggled to create chances last night at the National Stadium.
And when they did equalise, they failed to hold on to the point with just minutes left.
In fact, they have also gone behind 18 times in 34 games under Stange and managed to fight back only twice (2-2 against Guam and 2-1 against Bangladesh), and never in a competitive match.
Winger Christopher van Huizen, who got his first international start last night in front of 7,468 fans, after Faris Ramli suffered from food poisoning, was one of them with his direct runs and teasing crosses.
But some, like right back Nazrul Ahmad Nazari and central midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin, could not live with Syria's frightening pace and physicality.
Syria striker Omar Khribin profited from chaos in the Singapore defence to head in Mahmoud Al Mawas' right-wing cross after just 20 minutes.
Centre back Madhu Mohana, often a rock in defence, lost his cool and shoved the two-goal hero Omar in the face after being persistently kicked for 54 minutes.
Utility man Safuwan Baharudin was deployed up front instead of Fazrul Nawaz or Sahil Suhaimi who are forwards by trade, but he often lacked support.
His 89th-minute penalty equaliser was the hosts' first shot on target.
Omar then capitalised on the Lions' lack of defensive discipline and concentration to slot home a stoppage-time winner.
Yet, Stange thought it appropriate to praise his players, and said: "I think we made an excellent decision in our team decision, I think it was risky, but it worked.
"We are looking for players who will be in the prime for the 2019 Asian Cup.
"I think the starting line-up and substitutes are totally correct, there are no more other options."
However, the fact remains Singapore are third in Group E and will proceed to the next round of Asian Cup qualifiers if Afghanistan lose to Japan, as expected, next March.
Stange urges all the stakeholders to pull in the same direction as he targets more international matches and hopes more players can play abroad - but in better competitions than the Malaysian Super League.
“We are third in the table and still on track for the 2019 Asian Cup, so I want everyone to be positive to help us get there.”
— Singapore coach Bernd Stange
BY THE NUMBERS
The Lions are third in Group E and will qualify for the next round of Asian Cup qualifiers if Afghanistan lose to Japan next March.