Stange optimistic about Lions making next round of World Cup qualifiers
National coach optimistic about Lions reaching the third round, despite being grouped with Japan and Syria
Despite mostly disappointing results since he took charge in 2013, national coach Bernd Stange is optimistic about progress from the second round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, following yesterday's draw in Kuala Lumpur.
The Lions, ranked 162nd in the world, have been drawn in Group E alongside Asian powerhouses Japan (50th), Syria (126th), Afghanistan (135th) and Cambodia (179th) and will kick off their campaign away in Cambodia on June 11.
After the draw, Stange told The New Paper: "Our target is always qualification. If we are not targeting qualification, we shouldn't register ourselves for these games.
"As such, we will fight for a good result in every match."
Forty teams were split into eight groups of five, with the group winners and four best runners-up advancing to the next round.
These 12 teams will also automatically qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup, while the 28 teams eliminated from the World Cup qualifiers will still have another chance to qualify for the Asian Cup.
Stange said: "The draw is a challenging one, every match is tough, but we are optimistic.
"We have beaten Syria and Cambodia before, but our biggest mistake would be to underestimate our opponents.
"These are exciting times with the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers.
"We should take the challenge and I'm the first person in Singapore to believe we will make it through to the next round."
With Japan top dogs and overwhelming favourites to progress, this means Singapore will have to perform much better under Stange and finish as Group E runners-up to stand a chance.
In 23 matches under the 67-year-old German, the Lions have won just nine, and most were against inferior South-east Asian opposition.
The only exception was a surprise 2-1 win over Syria in October 2013.
His last Asian Cup qualifying campaign ended with one win and four defeats, while Singapore were also eliminated from the 2013 Suzuki Cup group stage as defending champions.
To make things trickier for Stange, the first two World Cup qualifiers are on June 11 and 16, during the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Singapore from June 5 to 16.
The SEA Games football competition is from May 29 to June 15, which means if the Young Lions go all the way, Stange will be without his top Under-23 players for the two qualifiers.
"We won't have the best team, but I'm fine with losing up to eight players during the SEA Games period," said Stange.
"I accept that the SEA Games is important and I will make do with whoever is available."
Much criticised for overlooking the S.League in many of his squad selections, Stange seemed to relent and told TNP he will look to the local league to strengthen his options.
He added: "This is a new challenge for S.League players, to use matches in the AFC Cup and S.League to show that they are capable of playing for the national team.
DOOR WIDE OPEN
"The door is wide, wide open for S.League players to fight for positions in the national team.
"Now is the time for them to work hard and show what they are made of, and we will try to watch all the S.League games to scout for players. I hope they will take the chance."
The SEA Games closing ceremony also clashes with the home game against Japan on June 16, which rules out the National Stadium as a venue for the match.
The Football Association of Singapore told TNP that it is trying to request Fifa, the Asian Football Confederation and the Japan Football Association to allow the match to be played in Japan and the reverse fixture on Nov 12 to be played here instead.
The other alternative would be to play the match at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
With no Fifa dates scheduled between now and Singapore's first World Cup qualifier, there is also the issue of gathering all the players, from Malaysia and possibly Australia, for an extended period of centralised training to prepare for the new assignment.
Stange said: "We will try to bring together the best players. But it may be impossible to request for our overseas-based players to come back for preparations because the next Fifa dates will be the World Cup qualifiers.
"We will have to come up with a plan to see how we can make the best out of the situation."
Singapore skipper Shahril Ishak, who plays for Johor Darul Ta'zim II in Malaysia, added: "I don't think this is a big problem; many other countries face the same issue.
"There are also many good players in the S.League, so I hope they will be able to play a part in this new campaign.
"The national team have not produced results recently, so we must look at the World Cup qualifiers as a fresh start. It will not be easy, but we must be united and strive for good performances and results."
While he described the World Cup qualifiers as a marathon - the second round lasts till March 29 next year - Stange was less forthcoming about his own future, with his contract up for renewal after the SEA Games.
He would only say: "I'm focused on the first two matches.
"There has been no agreement, so I won't comment on my future."
- June 11
v Cambodia (Away)
- June 16
v Japan (Home)
- Sept 3
v Syria (A)
- Oct 8
- Oct 13
- Nov 12
v Japan (A)
v Syria (H)
- March 29
v Afghanistan (A)
DRAW FOR ASIA'S SECOND QUALIFYING ROUND FOR RUSSIA 2018 WORLD CUP AND UAE 2019 ASIAN CUP
- GROUP A: United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Timor Leste, Malaysia
- GROUP B: Australia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh
- GROUP C: China, Qatar, Maldives, Bhutan, Hong Kong
- GROUP D: Iran, Oman, India, Turkmenistan, Guam
- GROUP E: Japan, Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore, Cambodia
- GROUP F: Iraq, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan
- GROUP G: South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Myanmar, Laos
- GROUP H: Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Philippines, North Korea, Yemen
GROUP E ANALYSIS
Four-time Asian champions Japan will be delighted with their Group E draw, with the scrap for second an open contest among the much weaker four.
Syria look best placed to take the runners-up spot after some decent recent results, including wins over Jordan and Malaysia, but the war has ravaged the sport in the country.
Singapore have stuttered badly under Bernd Stange, but did beat the Syrians 2-1 at home in Asian Cup qualifying last year and will be confident of beating Cambodia, the joint worst-ranked side (with Taiwan) at 179 in the Asian draw.
Afghanistan were 2013 South Asian champions and should battle Singapore for third spot in the group. - Reuters.
• The top eight teams and four best group runners-up will progress to Asia's final World Cup qualifying round as well as the Asian Cup in UAE.• The home-and-away round-robin competition starts on June 11 and finishes on March 29 next year.• The remaining 28 teams will compete for the other 12 places at the Asian Cup, which has been expanded to 24 sides for 2019.