Stange confident of beating Thailand in Suzuki Cup opener
Stange shrugs off another loss as he eyes winning start in Suzuki Cup defence
(Ismaeel Abdullatif 67, Mohamed Saeed Al Husaini 75)
With no wins in three straight international matches, one would expect any national coach to press the panic button.
But Singapore's Bernd Stange remained buoyant yesterday morning (Singapore time) despite the Lions' 0-2 loss to Bahrain in an international friendly in Riffa.
The 66-year-old German said after the match: "I am very pleased with our performance in the first 60 minutes, and there are many positives to take from that.
"If we can maintain that level for 90 minutes, we will match anybody."
In a telephone interview with The New Paper later, Stange added: "We were up against a team (Bahrain) who are right up there with the likes of Oman, Jordan and Iraq, but the first 67 minutes were probably the best the team have performed this year."
Ranked 161st in the world and 31st in Asia, the Lions faced the world No. 104 team in the lead-up to the AFF Suzuki Cup here later this month, where co-hosts Singapore are the defending champions and unprecedented four-time winners.
They went into yesterday morning's match winless in the previous two internationals last month - a 2-1 loss to Hong Kong and a 2-2 draw with Macau.
The stalemate in Macau led to Stange publicly criticising defensive stalwart Baihakki Khaizan's performance.
But, there was none of that yesterday morning, with the 30-year-old centre back given the captain's armband.
Baihakki said: "We did okay in the first half and even created one or two chances, but they came out a different side in the second half and really dominated the game.
"We knew we needed to improve with each game and I felt we gave a united performance tonight, where the spirit was there and everyone was sure of their roles."
Asked how he fared, Baihakki said: "You know me, I always give my best and I don't care what people say.
"I play in a position where I am more prone to make mistakes. Of course, I wanted to play better, but I felt I did okay."
Stange had to cope without the services of experienced players such as Tampines Rovers' Shahdan Sulaiman, Shaiful Esah and Ismadi Mukhtar, and Home United's Fazrul Nawaz, as they were required for RHB Singapore Cup duties.
At least he was able to send on the likes of national skipper Shahril Ishak and fullback Faritz Abdul Hameed as late substitutes to gain some match fitness, with both recently coming back from injuries.
Stange said: "I am not worried about Shahril's fitness, but Faritz and Madhu (Mohana) are still doubtful for the Suzuki Cup and we will have to monitor their rehabilitation."
The Lions have scheduled two more friendlies in Singapore - against Laos on Friday, and Cambodia the following Monday - before the big showdown with Thailand in their opening Suzuki Cup Group B match on Nov 23 at the National Stadium.
The other teams in the group are Malaysia and Myanmar.
Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Laos make up Group A, which will be staged in Hanoi.
Despite the indifferent results so far, Stange remains confident that the Lions will do well in the regional football extravaganza.
He said: "I am very, very optimistic, we have a good team, and we are in a good way right now.
"We have been going through intense training and conditioning since Oct 1, and we will use the final two weeks to freshen up and make ourselves sharper, in time to beat Thailand.
"They are highly motivated now."