Far from feeling the pressure of delivering a fifth ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup for Singapore, national coach Bernd Stange is brimming with confidence and has the golden trophy in his crosshairs.
Firmly believing that the Lions have what it takes to triumph again, the German said yesterday: "The goal is to win the cup at home. We are the home team, we are the defending champions, and nobody is going to explain to anybody we cannot win because of this or that.
"I admit Thailand look strong but it means absolutely nothing.
"We have home advantage... all around the world the home team is very strong because (with home support) they play with 13 or 14 players."
The 66-year-old, who recorded just two wins in eight internationals this year, is undeterred by the inconsistent results. He says he is ready for Thailand: "As coach, I am always optimistic. We are not afraid. We are very confident. We scout all our opponents, we know all the details, and we are prepared for all our opponents."
Stange's confidence stems from the composition of his team. He believes he has the right mix of players, from hungry youngsters like winger Faris Ramli and striker Sahil Suhaimi, to seasoned campaigners like captain Shahril Ishak and striker Khairul Amri, who have won the tournament thrice.
He said: "It's not a young team, it's not an old team. It's a fantastic balance of young, old and good players.
"The balance and quality of players should give us confidence going into this tournament."
Midfielder Hariss Harun, a member of the 2012 squad, agrees the team can go all the way at home.
The midfielder, who turns 24 on Wednesday, said: "We experienced the home crowd advantage in Jalan Besar in 2012. Imagine what it will be like at the National Stadium.
"Other teams often look better on paper, but in 2012 we won it through teamwork. I believe we have it in us to win it this year and everyone is looking forward, ready to go."
The Lions play Cambodia in their final friendly match tonight before their AFF Cup Group B opener on Sunday against Thailand, coached by former S-League striker Kiatisuk Senamuang, at Kallang.
And Stange is hopeful that his charges will build on Thursday's 2-0 win over Laos at Yishun Stadium today. The team, though, has one injury concern. Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud twisted his ankle in training, although he is expected to recover in time for the opening match.
While both goals against Laos were headers, Stange wants to see more from his men on the deck.
He said: "We should go and win the game, and score more goals with our feet, and hopefully come through without injuries."
He also hopes to see the team last the full 90 minutes playing the high-intensity style of pressing football he demands.
He said: "Traditionally we slow down in the last 20 to 30 minutes. We have improved, the last match showed we could control it in the final stages. We have to stretch our power for 90 minutes."
This article was first published on November 17, 2014.
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