Lions look for positive result against Syria in Muscat
Stange's Lions aim to continue improbable run in World Cup qualifiers
Even with his own future in doubt, national football coach Bernd Stange is looking to play his part in creating football history here and, for that to happen, he is aiming for a positive result when the Lions take on Syria in their World Cup qualifier on Sept 3 in Muscat, Oman.
The eight group winners and four best runners-up of the second round of the 2018 World Cup Asian qualifiers will advance to the third round, and also qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup Finals, a feat Singapore have never managed except when they hosted the tournament in 1984.
Incredibly, Singapore find themselves top of Group E after a 4-0 win over Cambodia and a superb 0-0 draw with Japan in Saitama and, Stange, whose contract ends next month, said yesterday: "With four points, we are in the driver's seat.
"We achieved something many teams won't be able to achieve in Japan, but that is history.
"Against Syria, we will try to take something in our quest to create history.
"A win or even a point will put us in an outstanding position to qualify for the Asian Cup, and it requires great desire and concentration.
"From my experience, I also know that as the campaign goes on, the pressure will only increase for us to win our home games."
After the Sept 3 test, Singapore have four successive home games against Afghanistan, Cambodia, Japan and Syria before the end of the year.
Most of the Singapore squad trained yesterday at the Geylang Field and the team will travel to Doha tomorrow to take on Qatar in a tune-up on Friday.
Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, Tampines Rovers left back Shaiful Esah, Home United winger Yasir Hanapi and Warriors FC striker Fazrul Nawaz will miss the friendly and will only join the team in Muscat because their clubs still have S.League matches to negotiate.
Johor Darul Ta'zim midfielder Hariss Harun (AFC Cup) and JDT II duo Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khaizan (Malaysia Cup playoff) also did not train yesterday as their clubs play today, but will make it to Doha for the Qatar game.
In the squad of 23 this time will be versatile Safuwan Baharudin, who missed the Japan game due to personal reasons.
The 23-year-old LionsXII star will surely play a key role if Stange's side are to post a good result against Syria.
With 14 of his 23 players aged 25 and below, the German believes he has a good, balanced squad, ably supported by quality backroom staff.
"When I took over, I made perhaps the biggest cut in recent years," said the 67-year-old former coach of Belarus, who will once again be assisted by Fandi Ahmad and V Sundramoorthy.
"To rebuild, I dropped the foreign-born players and brought in many young players, who will be ready for the Asian Cup in 2019.
"Safuwan is one of the best players from the LionsXII and he is definitely an asset.
"But so are players like Shahril and (Khairul) Amri.
"My message to the senior players in the team is to contribute as much and stay as long as they can.
"The qualifiers are like a marathon and we need a strong squad to cover for injuries, suspensions and unexpected situations.
"(LionsXII coach) Fandi has done a lot to protect the players from burnout, and I really appreciate him and (Courts Young Lions) coach Juergen Raab, who have put national team priorities ahead of their own interests as we move united in one direction."
The Lions beat Syria 2-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in 2013 during the 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers, but they have mainly struggled against Middle Eastern opponents.
That win was the only positive result in their last 15 matches against teams like Oman, Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq and Syria and, during that run, they have conceded 45 goals while scoring just nine.
Striker Amri, who scored in the 2013 win over Syria and also played in the draw against Japan, said: "It's interesting how we can go close against strong teams like Japan but lose by bigger margins to Middle Eastern teams.
"I think it's because Japan are more patient and thoughtful in their play.
"It was like mental torture as they pull us from side to side, and we have to keep our concentration and discipline to hold them.
"Middle Eastern teams play a very fast-tempo game and rarely give us a chance to settle down.
"But if we believe, keep things tight and counter attack effectively, we can achieve something."
- Syria v Singapore
- Japan v Cambodia
- Goalkeepers: Izwan Mahbud (LionsXII), Hassan Sunny (Army United, Thailand), Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa).
- Defenders: Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Madhu Mohana, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Abu Sujad (all LionsXII), Baihakki Khaizan (Johor Darul Ta’zim II), Shaiful Esah (Tampines Rovers).
- Midfielders: Gabriel Quak, Faris Ramli, Izzdin Shafiq, Safuwan Baharudin, Zulfahmi Arifin, Shahdan Sulaiman (all LionsXII), Hariss Harun (Johor Darul Ta’zim), Yasir Hanapi (Home United)
- Forwards: Khairul Amri, Khairul Nizam (both LionsXII), Shahril Ishak (JDT II), Fazrul Nawaz (Warriors FC), Adam Swandi (Courts Young Lions).
Centurion-to-be up for more
- NAME: Khairul Amri
- BORN: March 14, 1985
- HEIGHT: 1.72m
- WEIGHT: 69kg
- POSITION: Forward
- INTERNATIONAL CAPS: 99
- INTERNATIONAL GOALS: 29
- CURRENT CLUB: LionsXII
- PREVIOUS CLUBS: Gombak United, Persiba Balikpapan, Tampines Rovers, Young Lions
- HONOURS: 2004, 2007, 2012 Asean champions(Singapore); 2013 S.League winners (Tampines).
He went for trials when he was 11 but didn't make any of the four Under-12 teams in the North-Zone centre of the now-defunct Milo Scheme.
But overall head coach Razif Onn saw something in Khairul Amri and took him along for one league match, and actually threw him on at half-time even if the youngster had not been assigned a team kit.
Amri pulled on a teammate's sweaty jersey and duly notched a hat-trick as his team rolled to victory.
Moving up the ranks quickly, he eventually received a call up into the national Under-12s.
Today, almost two decades on, Amri is set to wear the Singapore jersey for the 100th time when the Lions take on Qatar in an international friendly in Doha on Thursday, before a crucial World Cup qualifier against Syria in Oman on Sept 3.
Already part of three Asean title-winning teams, the 30-year-old can look back on a fulfilling international career.
"As a young boy, it was a dream to play for the national team. Then when I got my first cap against Oman in 2004, I thought only about how to win my next cap," said the LionsXII striker.
"After major left knee injury and breaking the fifth metatarsals in both feet, I just wanted to get back and play, and now that I am on 99 caps, I'm really looking forward to get to 100.
"It would be a great honour and I guess it feels like someone graduating with a degree. But it doesn't end here.
"I still have many ambitions, I want to win the Malaysian Super League title, I want to win the MSL Golden Boot.
"With the Lions, it would be something special to be part of the first Singapore team to qualify for the Asian Cup.
"As long as I'm fit and performing, I will do my best to give my coaches no reason not to pick me.
"And even after I stop playing, I want to continue contributing to Singapore football in other capacities."
Amri has been inextricably linked with Singapore's football successes over the last 10 years, after he became the only player to score in the final of the 2004, 2007 and 2012 Asean championships.
They are all strikes he would rank right up with his first international goal in a 2-0 win over India in 2004, and a free-kick special in the 2-0 victory over eventual 2007 Asian Cup champions Iraq in 2006.
Besides Razif, Amri credited his two national coaches - Bernd Stange and his predecessor Radojko Avramovic - for helping him reach the 100-cap milestone.
Current Singapore coach Stange has challenged his striker to continue to play at a high level.
"It is the job and demand of strikers like Amri to score goals and win matches," said the German.
"Stay as long as you can and contribute as much as you can."
Amri insists he is up for it.
"I have matured and reached the stage of my career where I go into every training session and match understanding and knowing what to do, how to play, and what is the standard required," he said.
"Nobody expected us to get a result against Japan, but we held them to a 0-0 draw.
"So many times, we (the Lions) have produced something special when written off and I'm very happy if we can continue to prove people wrong and go on to create more history."
- DAVID LEE