SINGAPORE - Singapore coach Bernd Stange on Monday faced calls for his dismissal after a 3-1 loss to bitter rivals Malaysia saw the defending champions knocked out of the AFF Suzuki Cup.
The 66-year-old German has come under fire since taking charge last May for allegedly favouring younger players and forcing the Southeast Asian minnows to adopt a fast-paced passing game to limited effect.
On Saturday, playing at Singapore's gleaming new National Stadium, Stange's men looked set to secure the draw needed to advance to the semi-finals with the score at 1-1 with time running out.
They were then stunned by two injury-time goals by the 2010 champions Malaysia, including a controversial penalty.
Stange's poor record includes 158th-ranked Singapore finishing last in their Asian Cup qualifying pool earlier this year.
In the post-match press conference on Saturday, a bullish Stange expressed disappointment, but praised his young side who have an average age of 25.
Singapore's Straits Times newspaper Monday quoted unnamed players complaining of being "poorly prepared" and "very angry" during the tournament due to Stange's management style.
"Stange was insistent on his tiki-taka system, but the players felt (that) for the (Southeast Asian) game the direct approach was more effective," the daily quoted one player as saying.
The paper's sports editor Marc Lim said that interviews with several players hinted at "deep-rooted problems" in the dressing room.
"What good is a coach who cannot seem to communicate effectively with his players, let alone get the best out of them?" Lim wrote.
Singapore striking great Aleksandar Duric, who retired in October at the age of 44, also called for Stange to be given the sack.
"In my view, Stange has to go now... he turned a championship-winning team into a first round casualty," he wrote in a column in the Straits Times.
Stange, in an interview with the Straits Times, defended his training regimen as "well-organised" and played down allegations of favouritism.
"It happens in every team, players who are not selected create conflicts, but I can promise you this team for the future is completely intact in terms of morale, spirit and attitude," he said.
Some fans cautioned local football authorities against acting prematurely.
"Stange has got not only the immediate results of the national team in mind, but also the long-term development of Singapore football," one avid Singapore fan, Muhammad Nadjad Abdul Rahim, told AFP.
Stange was brought in by the Football Association of Singapore last year to replace Serbian Raddy Avramovic, who resigned after leading the city-state to three championships in the Suzuki Cup in 2004, 2007 and 2012.
Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have qualified for the semi-finals of the tournament, organised by the ASEAN Football Federation.