Stange to Lions: Show the world what you can do
National coach wants Lions to 'show the world' what they are capable of
SINGAPORE v JAPAN
(Tomorrow, 6.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 109)
Two days before a match, many coaches would put their players through the grinder during training.
Not national coach Bernd Stange, ahead of the Lions' World Cup qualifier against Asian powerhouses Japan at the National Stadium tomorrow.
The 66-year-old German decided to ease up on his boys yesterday, and his training session at the Geylang Field lasted just over an hour.
The squad went through some light exercises, played a short two-sided game of probables against possibles, and practised some set-piece scenarios.
Then they were left to train on their own for half an hour.
Defensive stalwart Baihakki Khaizan practised thwacking volleys from outside the box.
Young forwards Sahil Suhaimi and Faris Ramli challenged each other to see who could slice the ball into goal from the corner flag, with the outside of the boot.
And striker Fazrul Nawaz, the man most likely to replace the injured Khairul Amri as Singapore's main striker tomorrow, was a picture of concentration sharpening his finishing skills.
Stange told The New Paper that he has thrown down the gauntlet to his players, and it was up to them to respond.
"I am giving my players freedom in this match," said the former Iraq and Belarus coach. "All the freedom in the world to deliver.
"I have told them to show the world, 'My name is Safuwan' or 'My name is Faris'.
"This is a chance to put their names in international headlines, like Izwan did in June. In such a game, a coach sits back. And we will see what the players can do."
Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud put in a phenomenal performance to keep Japan at bay as the Lions drew 0-0 with their mighty opponents in the reverse fixture in Saitama in June.
As in the previous three days, Stange insisted he had nothing to say on team selection or tactics.
But his players know the score.
While eager to show what they can do, they know nothing less than a coordinated effort from all 11 red shirts on the pitch will be needed if they are to perform another small miracle to stop Japan, who have scored 12 goals in three qualifiers since the Saitama shocker.
Defensive midfielder Izzdin Shafiq, who will reprise his Saitama role of screening Singapore's back four, said: "It's a good opportunity for me to show my capability and shine as an individual.
"But, at the end of the day, the effort from the whole team is most important."
Added fullback Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, who also played the full 90 minutes in Saitama: "It's all about determination and teamwork.
"Of course, we want the world to see us, and we got a good result (in June).
"But it will be a different story on Thursday, and we have to give our best for Singapore football."
Singapore are third in Group E with 10 points, two behind leaders Syria, who they will host at the National Stadium next Tuesday.
Japan are second on 10 points, with a better goal difference than the Lions and a game in hand.
Automatic qualification for the Asian Cup and a place in the third round of World Cup qualifiers are still within reach for Stange's men, if they can top their group or finish as one of the top four runners-up from the eight groups.
But the more realistic goal is to secure their progress to the next round of Asian Cup qualifiers by finishing third in the group.
To do so, they will have to either win one of their last three games, or hope that fourth-placed Afghanistan fail to accumulate at least seven points from their last three matches and overhaul a 20-goal difference.
BY THE NUMBERS
Since the 0-0 draw with Singapore in June, Japan have scored 12 goals in their other World Cup qualifiers. They beat Cambodia 3-0, thrashed Afghanistan 6-0 and trounced Syria 3-0.