Still some cracks as Stange's men beat Myanmar 2-1
Lions into third qualifying round of Asian Cup, but outgoing coach Stange says more hard work needed
(Shahril Ishak 27, Fazrul Nawaz 86)
(Suan Lam Mang 65)
Bernd Stange jumped off the Singapore team bus and scuttled back into the Jalan Besar Stadium, squinting as he hurried past the waiting crowd.
The Lions coach evidently misplaced his glasses, somewhere in the bowels of the stadium, but he stopped to shake hands, even pausing to wave at the fans who had gathered.
Last night was the German's final home fixture as coach of the Lions and, while he believes he is leaving behind a worthy national team, the lucky 2-1 friendly win over Myanmar last night more than hinted at cracks in the Lions' den.
The Lions were outplayed for large periods, with a young Myanmar side dishing out football that Stange had hoped his charges could have - dominating possession with slick passing, while carving out scoring opportunities.
And, in a moment of candid clarity, the 68-year-old warned of things to come.
"I think fans will be happy if you win. We (were) a little lucky, but we also had clear chances that we should have scored from," said Stange, who will lead the Lions into neutral venue Teheran, for their final - and inconsequential - World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan next Tuesday.
"We will analyse where we went wrong. I won't mention it, you all saw the problems we have. We have a lot to do."
Singapore have secured third position in Group E, behind Syria and Japan, after the Japanese thumped Afghanistan 5-0 in a qualifier last night.
That means the Lions have qualified for the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers without needing to take part in a play-off. The third-round draw will be made later as there are still some teams who will be involved in play-offs.
"Myanmar have resources, facilities, a national training centre, they played at the (Under-20) World Cup," said Stange.
"If there's no desire to succeed in professional football (in Singapore), there will be stagnation."
It was evident that Myanmar, ranked 154th in the Fifa rankings, six places below the Lions, have made progress.
For large parts of the game, Myanmar, who have never won the AFF Suzuki Cup, controlled proceedings against a Singapore side that are four-time winners of the regional tournament.
Skipper Shahril Ishak might have given Singapore the lead in the 27th minute, but this was against the run of play, after Myanmar had forced Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny to show just why he was named the best goalkeeper in the Thai Premier League last year.
In the 13th minute, Hassan pulled off a top-drawer save to tip a Kyaw Ko Ko free-kick, destined for the top corner, behind for a corner.
Substitute Suan Lam Mang equalised in the 65th minute, after a long period of Myanmar domination, but the introduction of Fazrul Nawaz seemed to breathe life into a disinterested Singapore side.
The Tampines Rovers forward volleyed home in the 86th minute in a frenetic end to the match, where there were chances on both ends.
"Sometimes, football is not so fair, Singapore had two-and-a-half chances in the second half, and they scored one time. It was a lucky win for Singapore, but they used their chances, and we didn't," lamented Myanmar's German coach Gerd Zeise.
"I'm not surprised (that we dominated the game). I know this team, and we train to act, not to react.
"We have a young team, and you can see that we are in a good way," he added, warning that Myanmar will surprise at the year-end Suzuki Cup.
Zeise has lined up a three-month training camp with his charges leading up to the tournament and, if this match was not enough of a warning, the German served up his own.
"We need time before we are ready but, when these three months are over, we can compete with the big teams," he said confidently.
Stange, on the other hand, seemed to offer some sort of an apology after some three years in charge of the Lions.
"Such a rich and proud country should be able to deliver top-class professional football, and there are a lot of things to change... You have to find an answer to succeed," said the former Iraq and Belarus coach.
"There is a lot to do for Singapore football, I promise I gave my best in three years.
"I made mistakes, players made mistakes, but I gave my best every single day for your football."
Younger Lions need to improve
Outgoing national coach Bernd Stange insisted that he will leave behind a worthy national team but, in a 2-1 friendly win over Myanmar last night, it was the old guard who stood tall and saved Singapore's blushes.
Shahril Ishak, Hassan Sunny and Juma'at Jantan are no more regular starters, but they, and Fazrul Nawaz, were the ones who rescued a Lions side whose younger players just did not show up.
"This is a good gauge of ourselves. I don't want to single out anyone, but we must look at ourselves as a team," said disappointed midfielder Hariss Harun, who questioned the concentration and ability of his team to control match proceedings.
"Senior or junior, we must push each other. It's very important that all 11 are switched on, and on task.
"This Myanmar team can get better, and we have to keep up. We must not only improve regionally, but also raise our standards higher."
Sahil Suhaimi was ineffective on the right of midfield, with Safuwan Baharudin strangely disinterested in the middle, and Zulfahmi Arifin putting in a poor performance in the heart of defence.
Baihakki Khaizan played no part in the game, but the 122-cap defender warned his younger teammates that they need to get better.
"I'm sure they know they didn't give enough individually," said Baihakki, who declined to name names. "If they gave 70 per cent, they better give that 30 per cent more in Teheran."
The Lions depart tonight for an inconsequential World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier against Afghanistan in neutral venue Teheran on Tuesday.
"Shahril scored an important goal, but how long can such players last at the top level?" asked Stange, who believes that the next national coach will still pick the likes of Sahil and Zulfahmi.
"They are part of the preparation for the next period," added the German, who believes there are now at least two players gunning for every position.
Baihakki has challenged the younger ones to step up if they want to secure a future with the national team.
He said: "They are not kids any more, they should be professional enough to know where they stand. If they want to stay in the national team for a long time, they have to be consistent."
- SHAMIR OSMAN