Singapore must win next two World Cup qualifiers, says coach Stange
Lions coach Stange bills next two World Cup qualifiers at National Stadium as must-win
After watching Japan and Syria win their respective World Cup qualifiers last night to establish themselves as the big two in Group E, Singapore national coach Bernd Stange knows the score - the Lions have to win their two games next month.
After last night's games, the Lions have dropped to third in the group, three points behind Japan and five adrift of leaders Syria.
Singapore host Afghanistan on Oct 8 and Cambodia on Oct 13, and Stange says six points are a must if they want to finish as one of the top two teams in the group and progress to the next round, which will also see them qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.
The Lions opened their Group E campaign with three matches on the road, and beat Cambodia 4-0, held Japan 0-0 and were unlucky in a narrow 1-0 defeat by Syria.
The Lions' German coach says those performances have given him cause for optimism.
"Winning the matches against Afghanistan and Cambodia will be important if we want to qualify directly for the Asian Cup," he told The New Paper.
"I am confident that we can achieve good results in both matches if our players continue to work hard and play our passing style of football.
"I have been monitoring Afghanistan's results and they did well against Thailand and were unfortunate to lose 2-0 before Japan beat them 6-0.
"Let's not forget that they are almost 30 places above us in the Fifa rankings as well (Singapore are 157th while Afghanistan are 130th).
"We will prepare well for both matches, and we want to get two good performances and more importantly, two good results."
Star midfielder Hariss Harun and his teammates believe it is vital they be given enough sessions to train at the new National Stadium, where they have yet to set foot on as a national team since it was re-turfed.
The 24-year-old, who has worn the captain's armband in the World Cup qualifying campaign so far, said: "We need to be more familiar with the pitch than our opponents, so that we can truly call it a home ground advantage.
"This means giving us enough time to prepare at the National Stadium, and not just one or two days before the matches. Everyone has to pull together in one direction."
Striker Khairul Amri agreed and added: "We need to play in the new stadium more often. Playing on a new pitch is like making a new friend. You need to spend more time to get to know it better."
Amri, capped 101 times at senior level, insists the Lions have learnt from their failings at last year's Suzuki Cup - they were dumped out in the opening group stage - and emerged as a more cohesive unit.
Said the 30-year-old: "During the Suzuki Cup, we didn't understand each other well enough but since then, we have improved a lot and there is a sense of camaraderie now, where we don't want to let each other down.
"I feel we are a closer and more united team now. We communicate well, and we talk about tactical stuff like positioning and combinations among ourselves. There is that desire and willingness.
"Having Hariss, Safuwan (Baharudin) and Izzdin (Shafiq) in midfield has made a major difference for us, giving us more bite and passing options."
After the two October dates, the Lions will host Japan and Syria on Nov 12 and 17, respectively, before ending their group campaign away to Afghanistan on March 29 next year.
The Lions will need each department to be on its toes in each game, to ensure their promising start to the World Cup qualifying campaign does not end meekly.
One area where the Lions have surprised the most is in defence.
A previously leaky backline is now a miserly unit that has conceded just once in three games.
With Safuwan pushed up to midfield, Madhu Mohana has settled down well in a new central-defensive partnership with Baihakki Khaizan.
Madhu, 24, credited hard work and improved communication for the good defensive showing.
He said: "It is not only the defence. Yes, our goalkeeper Izwan (Mahbud) has been in top form and this gives the defenders great confidence. But our teammates in front of us have also put in a lot of effort to close down opponents high up the pitch.
"In addition to clean sheets, we are definitely going for the win against Afghanistan and Cambodia.
"Both are must-win games for us. We are in a decent position now, we have four points from three away matches.
"We must put ourselves in a better position if we want to qualify for the next round and the Asian Cup. To do that, we need take advantage of our home games.
"Beating Afghanistan and Cambodia will give us confidence and motivation to get positive results against Japan and Syria and set up our final game with Afghanistan nicely."
Playing on a new pitch is like making a new friend. You need to spend more time to get to know it better.
— Khairul Amri (above, centre) on the need to play more often at the new National Stadium
I am confident that we can achieve good results in both matches if our players continue to work hard and play our passing style of football.
— Lions coach Bernd Stange