Resolute Lions escape the heavy defeats suffered by other SEA nations
Stange says Lions moving in right direction although there's much room for improvement
(Ouday Abdul Jaffal 59)
It was a case of what could have been.
Ranked 36 places below their opponents, 157th-ranked Singapore made light of the world standings when they held their own against Syria in a World Cup Group E qualifier (Asia) played on neutral ground in Muscat, Oman, on Thursday.
The Lions' solid, resolute display was, however, undone by one moment of lapse in concentration in the 59th minute, when fullback Nazrul Ahmad Nazari was sold by a feint by Syria's Turkey-based star Sanharib Malki, who crossed for an unmarked Ouday Abdul Jaffal to head home the winner.
Unlike the other World Cup qualifiers involving other South-east Asian nations, it was far from a one-sided game as Singapore had chances to at least earn a point, which would have kept them on top of Group E.
But striker Khairul Amri missed a number of gilt-edged chances and, with Syria goalkeeper Ibrahim Almeh in inspired form, the Lions fell to their first defeat of the second-round qualifying campaign after three matches.
Despite the defeat, national coach Bernd Stange preferred to see the positives.
"I have no pain after that match," the 67-year-old German told The New Paper.
"I am absolutely relaxed, because we are moving in the right direction.
"The painful period is behind us, which was rebuilding the team two years ago, and failing at the Suzuki Cup (last December).
"I see a lot of areas where we can improve, but I don't want to point my finger at anybody.
"The result is not what we wanted but, in three (World Cup qualifying) games, we have conceded just one goal, and that tells me we have defensive stability.
"The players recognise the direction we want to go in, and it is not as easy as before to beat us.
"We are no longer outclassed by opponents."
Earlier in the post-game press conference at the Sultan Qaboos Stadium, Stange said: "We have a right to be disappointed, but we can be very proud of our performance."
"Until the last minute, we tried to get the result.
"Syria are ranked much higher than us but, today, we showed we can match such a team.
"It's the first time in two years that I've been Singapore coach, that we can match a Middle East team.
"Usually, we will lose 3-0, 4-0, without a chance at goal.
"So, today is a positive. We made a big step forward, even with the defeat."
Syria coach Fajr Ibrahim admitted that he did not expect such a good showing from the Lions.
"Singapore have made a great improvement, a great jump," he said.
"They have become a very strong team tactically, work with a great system, especially in defence.
"It was a very hard match for us, but the main thing is we got the three points at the end.
"They missed a lot of chances, dangerous chances, but we also had three great chances of our own that we did not take."
Singapore skipper Hariss Harun was glum-faced after the match, but was proud of his team's performance.
"We had our chances... If one of them had gone in, it could have been a different story," said the Johor Darul Ta'zim midfielder.
"It's not easy for us to accept defeat, but Syria did very well and now we have to try and stay positive, and look forward to our home games.
"We did very well to compete with a team that had the edge physically."
Stange, whose contract is up at the end of the month and told TNP he would like to continue and lead Singapore to a place in the 2019 Asian Cup, said there is still much the Lions can improve on.
"We still need much more confidence to play the style of football we want," he said.
"I believe it's about mentality.
"South-east Asian teams believe they are second best. We can see from tonight's results elsewhere.
"We have to break this mentality."
Singapore's next two home games are against Afghanistan on Oct 8 and Cambodia on Oct 13.
"It is not the football Association of Singapore’s policy to comment on personnel and contractual matters of specific employees, including coaches. Like any other organisation, we have in place employment processes and review procedures which involve the association and the staff. All such reviews and discussions will be kept confidential. The final decision will first be communicated to the staff directly and in confidence, before we make any announcement."
- The Football Association of Singapore’s reply to The New Paper’s query on national coach Bernd Stange’s position
(Only South-east Asian countries)
- GROUP A: UAE 10 Malaysia 0, Saudi Arabia 7 East Timor 0
- GROUP E: Japan 3 Cambodia 0
- GROUP G: Kuwait 9 Myanmar 0, South Korea 8 Laos 0
Oman-based Singaporeans proud of Lions
LUNCH BUNCH: The Singapore team visiting the Oman home of Elias Tang. PHOTOS: ELIAS TANG
GO, LIONS, GO: The Singapore band of supporters at the Sultan Qaboos Stadium
The Lions had some unexpected support during their 1-0 World Cup qualifier defeat by Syria in Muscat, Oman, on Thursday.
About half an hour before kick-off, a small band of 10 fans, decked mostly in red, strode into the Sultan Qaboos Stadium.
Armed with Singapore flags and scarves, the group comprised members of "Singaporeans In Oman", or SIO in short.
SIO are made up of Oman-based Singaporeans working in different jobs and industries.
Elias Tang, who owns an IT business in Muscat and has been living in the Sultanate for 10 years, explained that the group had been planning to support the Lions after they learned of the match when they returned home to Singapore for the Hari Raya holidays in July.
He told The New Paper: "We are happy to be able to support our boys in Muscat, our home away from home.
"It's been a long time since we sang Majulah Singapura but, boy, did we sing it loud here."
Tang, 44, also got in touch with the Singapore team manager, Farehan Hussein, to host a lunch for the players at his home yesterday before they flew back to Singapore.
The Lions' fearless display was undone by one moment of poor defending which resulted in the narrrow defeat, but Tang and the rest of the SIO members were heartened by the team's performance.
"We felt a draw would have been a fair result. In fact, Singapore could have won," he said.
"The fighting spirit of the lads was amazing. They never gave up until the final whistle.
"If we carry on this way, we are on the right track."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ