Stange remains defiant in defeat, laments lack of luck
(Khairul Amri 83)
(Safee Sali 61, Safiq Rahim 90+3-pen, Indra Putra Mahayuddin 90+4)
Dumped out of the AFF Suzuki Cup, by bitter rivals Malaysia no less.
For Lions fans, few things can be more painful than what happened at the National Stadium last night.
But it could have been so different.
As the time on the digital scoreboard showed 90 minutes, Singapore were still on course for the semi-finals.
Seven minutes earlier, Khairul Amri had pulled the Lions level, cancelling out Safee Sali's 61st-minute strike.
Had Singapore held on for the draw, a spot in the last four was theirs.
But the match - the first Causeway Derby at the new National Stadium - blew up in their faces in injury time.
First, left back Hafiz Abu Sujad appeared to nudge Amri Yahyah as the Malaysian striker tried to get on the end of a harmless-looking cross.
The ball trickled out, and the home support of over 45,000 heaved a sigh of relief, thinking the referee had awarded them a goal-kick.
But, instead, match official Alkaf Ahmed Abu Bakar Said from Oman pointed to the penalty spot.
After a lengthy but ultimately futile protest by the Lions, Malaysia's Safiq Rahim stroked home the penalty to send the 3,000-odd Tigers supporters wild.
A minute later, in their desperate search for an equaliser, the Lions went for broke by sending goalkeeper Hassan Sunny up for an indirect free-kick.
But the visitors cleared their lines, and veteran Tigers forward Indra Putra Mahayuddin found himself on the ball.
Like he did during Malaysia's infamous 4-0 triumph at the old National Stadium 12 years ago, he again put the ball into the Singapore goal.
The home fans, having just seen their team's capitulation, bayed for blood.
They hurled plastic bottles and reams of toilet paper at Alkaf and his assistants, Kim Young Ha from South Korea and Deniye Hemathunga from Sri Lanka. The trio were forced to stay on the pitch for about 10 minutes after the game ended.
Facing the press later, Lions coach Bernd Stange tried his best to put on a brave front, but appeared slightly dazed from everything that had just transpired.
When asked about his future, the German said: "As you know, my contract finishes in 2015, and I'm not a youngster.
"I haven't thought about this question, (it's) five minutes after the game. It surprised me a little bit.
"First, we want to have a rest, all together (as a team)... Then we will sit together and fix our strategy.
"If that (the strategy) is the reason we failed, that's what we have to discuss."
But the former Hertha Berlin and Belarus coach was still defiant in defeat.
While he said his team "lacked a little bit of backbone" when compared to the title-winning team of 2012 because of the absence of foreign-born players in the side, he insisted he would stick to the current selection policy.
"The next highlight is the World Cup qualifiers (next year) and the base of our team will be (this) team," he said.
"There is not a Bernd Stange strategy. We have a strategic plan to rebuild this national team.
"It's a process... I'm disappointed we couldn't take the Cup again.
"Very unlucky here, I think. What we have to do is work very hard on the youth development here in Singapore."
However, he feels that Singapore have a strong core of players on which they can rely on in the future.
He said: "We feel very, very sorry for these fantastic fans that we could not deliver more. It's a young team, there's a bright future, eight players can play in next year's SEA Games.
"I'm not so disappointed with the performance. Of course, with the result, there is a deep disappointment and we are all empty.
"But I think we should take the right conclusions."
On the official's decision to award Malaysia the controversial penalty, he said: "I have learnt in my life that a penalty is a penalty if the ref gives it.
"That's rule No.1. Second rule is to be quiet as a coach and watch the replay, before you are full of emotions.
"I cannot follow the fans. From my view, it didn't look like a penalty.
"But I have to see the replay, and if that has happened - he gives such a penalty after 92 minutes - that would be a shame.
"It's not my job to judge the referee. But it's a heartbreaker to lose such a match to such a decision."
There is not a Bernd Stange strategy. We have a strategic plan to rebuild this national team. It’s a process.
— Bernd Stange
Shahril mulls over 'worst night of his career'
- TNP PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
He has played in six Asean Football Federation championships, won three titles and was crowned Most Valuable Player in 2012, when he led the Lions to an unprecedented fourth regional title.
As Singapore skipper and a national footballer with 120 caps, Shahril Ishak has experienced many highs and lows. But the 30-year-old was absolutely gutted to see his Lions lose 3-1 to archrivals Malaysia in the first Causeway Derby at the National Stadium and crash out of the Suzuki Cup at the first hurdle as defending champions.
"It's the worst night of my career," Shahril (above) said after seeing it all unravel with two late Malaysian goals.
"I'm so disappointed, and so are my family, friends, fans and, I'm sure, all Singaporeans. We gave our best, and tried so hard to get an equaliser.
"When we got the goal, we were still playing positive football. I think we did reasonably well throughout with an all-local team with many younger players.
"We wanted to go through, but I don't think we were complacent to think we had it in the bag because we wanted another goal to make the result safe.
"And then came the shock. I don't think it was a penalty. Amri Yahyah wasn't going to get to the ball, and no Malaysians argued for a penalty. Everyone thought it was a goal-kick.
"It is so painful to go out this way."
Shahril was the hero the last time both teams met at the last Suzuki Cup, when he scored a double as Singapore won 3-0 at Bukit Jalil. But this time, he had to sacrifice his attacking instincts to help out with the defence.
National coach Bernd Stange hinted it could be the last Suzuki Cup for senior players like Hassan Sunny, Baihakki Khaizan and Shahril, given his emphasis on youth.
But Shahril hopes he can still have another shot at righting this wrong.
"I'm not sure if this will be my last tournament. I can only do my best for my club and it's up to the national coach to decide if I'm good enough.
"I don't want to end my national team career on a terrible low like this."