Mind games ahead of Singapore-Myanmar clash
Former Singapore coach tries to pile pressure on Lions, but Stange says victory within reach
The moment Singapore coach Bernd Stange caught sight of the figure entering the room at the M Hotel yesterday, he zipped through his final words to end his part of the press conference and hurried off.
Radojko Avramovic was late for the pre-match press conference and the German had started proceedings off because he didn't want to wait.
Stange's Lions will face an Avramovic-led Myanmar in an AFF Suzuki Cup Group B encounter tonight at the National Stadium. The game is almost certainly a must-win fixture for the tournament co-hosts and the tension is coming to a boil.
Avramovic turned up the heat on his former charges, when he said: "They are under pressure, not us."
"They are under pressure," the Serb repeated, for effect.
Avramovic oversaw the most successful period in the Republic's football history with three Suzuki Cup wins during his nine-year tenure with the Lions and his image is plastered across the walls of Jalan Besar Stadium, a constant reminder of the peaks that were once scaled.
Tonight, he could come back to haunt the nation he led to so much glory.
Victory over Singapore will boot the co-hosts and defending champions out of the competition even before Saturday's final group fixtures.
This, after a luckless Singapore fell 1-2 to Thailand in their opening game last Sunday, with Myanmar playing out a 0-0 draw with Malaysia.
The gravity of the situation is not lost on Stange.
"The picture is clear, we have to win the next two matches. Now we have a job to do against Myanmar," the German said.
"I am quite confident that we can do that."
Stange already has a plan in place.
He had prepared a dossier of Myanmar, including each individual player, to aid Singapore's cause, especially since Avramovic knows the Lions like the back of his hand.
"Expect an attacking Singapore team. If the players continue to play like they did against Thailand, it should be enough to beat Myanmar," said Stange.
"We don't expect Myanmar to dominate the game... we expect them to be compact and going for the counter-attack, so we have to be patient."
Avramovic did not care for the assumptions made about his Myanmar side and instead kicked off the traditional pre-match mind games.
"(Stange) can say what he wants - against Malaysia, we tried to score, so we are not a defensive team," said the former Notts County goalkeeper.
Avramovic's game face softened a little later when he talked about leading Myanmar out against his former charges.
"There will be mixed feelings... and sure, it will be emotional. But, in the end, it is a competition and this a very important game for Myanmar, and for Singapore," he said.
"I will try to do my job."
He insisted that the players' jobs were more critical.
"There is too much talk (about my knowledge of Singapore). We can give players guidelines, but it is the players who make decisions on the field," he said.
Tonight's fixture will provide Stange with an opportunity to stamp his mark on Singapore football and, when asked about his thoughts on Myanmar, the former Iraq coach hinted he was aware of the additional significance.
He said: "Both (Avramovic and I) are new to our teams, I respect my colleague and Myanmar, and tomorrow we will see how good we are."
"There is too much talk (about my knowledge of Singapore). We can give players guidelines, but it is the players who make decisions on the field."
- Myanmar coach Radojko Avramovic
Lions practise shooting
Off crosses and corners, in tight spaces and from the top of the box, the Lions worked on little else at the Jurong West Stadium yesterday, except putting the ball in the back of the net.
They fell 1-2 to Thailand in their opening AFF Suzuki Cup Group B fixture, and it was evident that coach Bernd Stange is determined to get his charges sharper before tonight's must-win clash against Myanmar at the National Stadium.
"We have to work doubly hard, and cover double the distance that we normally do," said in-form striker Khairul Amri, who is poised to lead the Lions front-line again tonight.
"This is a do-or-die game, and we will go all out to score."
Amri was outstanding against Thailand, scoring the Republic's only goal and always giving his teammates an outlet with his tireless running, while skipper Shahril Ishak provided good support behind him.
The Lions missed a few chances on Sunday, and Shahril fluffed a gilt-edged opportunity, but he insisted that such profligacy will not be repeated.
"Amri did well, but we can't just depend on him. We need the whole team (to be tuned in to scoring)," said the Singapore captain.
"Faris Ramli missed some chances, and I did too. But I'm confident that if we create the right kind of chances (tonight), we will score."
Deployed on the right of an attacking trio behind Amri, young and talented centre forward Sahil Suhaimi looked uncomfortable, and the 22-year-old could lose his starting spot to Home United striker Fazrul Nawaz.
Said the 29-year-old: "I'm always ready when called upon. And whether I'm starting or on the bench, I will always give my 100 per cent."
Under former Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic, Fazrul (above) was deployed in attacking roles across the pitch, and he could well replicate that role again.
"If I am picked, I will work for the team, be aggressive and hopefully, get goals," he said.
But Shahril warned that it will not be an easy task against a Myanmar side led by Avramovic, who is known for his knack of instilling organisation and discipline in his teams.
"This is a different Myanmar from what we've seen in the past. Now they play more as a unit, and it won't be easy," said the 30-year-old.
"We need to score and I believe in the boys. But we must be patient, that's key."
Like a number of players in the Singapore team, Avramovic gave striker Amri his first cap.
The Myanmar coach will know there are three things that Amri does when he puts the ball in the back of the net: smile, pump one fist, and point at the provider of the pass, and he does this even during training drills.
There was a lot of that at Jurong West last night, and Amri is bursting at the seams to do the same tonight at the National Stadium, although Avramovic will fear it.
"I believe we can beat Myanmar," said the Singapore forward, still buzzing after his efforts.
"If you ask me, on our best days, we can even take on teams from the Middle East."