Stange: Don't blame me if top teams don't want to come and play on artificial pitch
SINGAPORE v GUAM
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
When he took over the reins of the national team in May 2013, Bernd Stange stressed the need to play top-quality international opponents to help take Singapore football to the next level and climb the Fifa world rankings.
Almost two years on, the German finds himself preparing his Lions, ranked 153rd in the world, for a friendly against 167th-ranked Guam tonight at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The highest-ranked team Singapore have faced during Stange's reign is China (83rd) in September 2013, and Stange's men suffered a 6-1 hammering.
When The New Paper pointed out the lack of high-quality opponents for his side, the 67-year-old bristled and blamed the lack of a quality pitch to play on.
"I would appreciate if journalists and newspapers don't put their finger on me for playing Guam or other (similar) teams," said the former Iraq and Belarus coach.
"As our (Football Association of Singapore) president (Zainudin Nordin) said two days ago, it's very, very difficult to convince top-class teams to play at Jalan Besar Stadium.
"All my promises to bring teams over through my personal contacts - to speak with (former Real Madrid and current Iran coach Carlos) Queiroz, with (Russia coach) Fabio Capello - depend on the (readiness of the) Sports Hub.
"Unfortunately a lot of teams refuse to play on Jalan Besar's artificial pitch.... Please don't put your finger on me if I cannot keep promises if we don't have a grass pitch."
The surface at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub, regarded as the home of the Lions - is undergoing a pitch replacement.
The original surface - a combination of natural and synthetic grass similar to the turf found at world-renowned stadia such as Wembley and Old Trafford - failed to sink roots properly after stadium opened in June last year.
And the Sports Hub decided to take action, deciding on a "lay and play" 100 per cent grass replacement.
The second-largest stadium in Singapore is the 7,500-capacity Jalan Besar.
Stange christened the newly-refurbished Geylang Field as "the best pitch in Singapore now" and said it was a step forward for local football.
"But as long as the Sports Hub is not ready, we cannot attract big teams because coaches, colleagues and friends refuse to play there... My promises depend on the availability of the Sports Hub," he insisted.
"And to play friendly matches is never a matter of the national team coach alone, it's a matter of a whole organisation and it's very, very difficult.
"You should understand that a little bit more before blaming me... I did everything but it's difficult to convince teams to play here."
The National Stadium pitch will show off the new turf by the time the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games rolls round in June.
When contacted yesterday, Sports Hub's senior director for corporate communications and stakeholder management, Jose Raymond, said: "The Singapore Sports Hub has announced a natural turf 'lay and play solution' which will be implemented at the National Stadium.
"Work has been ongoing and has been progressing very well, and will be implemented in time for the SEA Games in June.
"The semi-finals and the final of the football event for the SEA Games will be held at the National Stadium in June. The Barclays Asia Trophy, which will be held for the first time, will involve top English Premiership sides Arsenal, Everton and Stoke City at the National Stadium in July.
"We look forward to having these world class teams play at the National Stadium."
Raymond added the Sports Hub has been engaging the FAS and look forward to hearing its plans to bring world-class international teams to the National Stadium.
Out to defend their title on home ground, the Lions crashed out in the opening group stage of the AFF Suzuki Cup last December, and the recent loss to Asean champions Thailand would have been another blow to local fans.
There is pressure on the team to deliver tonight, but Stange said: "I can (take) this pressure with a smile.
"It's not a big problem... it's difficult to play Guam, who do not have a big name in international football but have a good team.
"And please, Singaporeans have no reason to underestimate such a team. It would be the first step to a defeat.
"We should not forget where we are in the world in the last 10 years, around 120 to 160... We should move forward and it's a long way.
"As I've mentioned, you cannot lift a rock with one finger, it's hard work and it's a long way. And it's sometimes painful."
We have to improve a step as soon as possible. That’s why we are looking for strong opponents; maybe in the future to play friendly matches away to China or (South) Korea. Or I could call coach Holger Osieck and arrange a game with Australia. We have to play such teams to improve.
— Bernd Stange during his introductory press conference at Jalan Besar Stadium in May 2013