Stange to Lions: Prove them wrong
THAILAND v SINGAPORE
(Tonight, 8pm, StarHub TV Ch 112, 205 & 76.25MHz)
Call him bulletproof, call him defiant, but national football coach Bernd Stange remains single-minded as he continues with what he believes is the right way to take the Lions forward.
In the first match after a shock elimination in the group stage of the AFF Suzuki Cup on home ground last December, Singapore will take on Thailand tonight in Korat.
Thailand went on to succeed Singapore as Asean football kings last year and today's international friendly has been arranged to mark 50 years of bilateral relations between the two nations.
After enduring a barrage of criticism following the poor performance at the 2015 Suzuki Cup, Stange received a vote of confidence from his employers at the Football Association of Singapore, and the 67-year-old German wants his team to prove critics wrong and to show they are still one of the leading lights in South-east Asia, at least.
Speaking to The New Paper last night, Stange said: "It is a great challenge four months after our Suzuki Cup exit, to take on champions Thailand on their home ground, especially when we haven't been together since...
"We don't see this match as revenge, but it is an important match to show we are ready to play top-class football."
The Lions' next assignment will be the second round of World Cup qualifiers in June, and Stange agreed that in light of recent poor results for the national Under-23 and Under-22 teams, tonight's match takes on extra significance.
And the Lions will try to come away from Korat with a positive result without two of their most experienced players, captain Shahril Ishak (groin) and goalkeeper Hassan Sunny (shoulder), who are both nursing injuries.
In the aftermath of the embarrassing exit at the Suzuki Cup, some of his players were reportedly unhappy over Stange's insistence on employing a short-passing game, some of his training methods and even his man-management.
When probed about his thoughts on the Suzuki Cup yesterday, the veteran German coach would only say: "We were not outclassed at the Suzuki Cup and lost to Thailand and Malaysia only in the dying moments due to a lack of concentration.
"As such, I don't see any reason to change our squad. It is absolutely clear that we go our way with a mix of youth and experience as we prepare for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers."
In his 20-man squad for the two upcoming friendlies - including a home match against Guam next Tuesday at the Jalan Besar Stadium - Stange selected just two new players - Home United goalkeeper Hyrulnizam Juma'at and LionsXII defender Madhu Mohana.
Some wondered why defensive lynchpin Safuwan Baharudin was selected considering his club Melbourne City are in the throes of a fight to make the A-League play-offs, and the Singapore star is in the midst of trying to secure a permanent contract as he approaches the end of his three-month loan deal next month.
Stange explained: "There were no requests by (Melbourne City coach John) van't Schip to release Safuwan. A world-class coach like him doesn't need seven or 10 days to judge a player."
- SINGAPORE SQUAD: Hassan Sunny, Izwan Mahbud, Hyrulnizam Juma'at, Baihakki Khaizan, Ismadi Mukhtar, Madhu Mohana, Shaiful Esah, Afiq Yunos, Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Gabriel Quak, Hariss Harun, Zulfahmi Arifin, Sahil Suhaimi, Khairul Amri, Shahril Ishak, Faris Ramli, Shahfiq Ghani
- Players and officials will be wearing black armbands during tonight's game and a minute's silence will also be observed before the match, as a mark of respect for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister, who passed away on Monday.