Goals good but wins come first

Goals good but wins come first
The Singapore national team footballers at a training session at National Stadium on 12 October 2015, ahead of their 2018 World Cup qualifier against Cambodia on 13 October.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Goal difference makes no difference to Singapore coach Bernd Stange, who is only concerned with picking up another three points against whipping boys Cambodia at the National Stadium tonight.

The visitors trot out at Kallang a fatigued and forlorn outfit, losing all four 2018 World Cup qualifiers and conceding 14 goals without scoring so far.

The hosts, meanwhile, struggled in a 1-0 win over Afghanistan on Thursday.

Still, the signs point to a morale-boosting victory for the Lions, given they have won 12 of their 15 encounters against Cambodia at the senior level - averaging more than two goals per game.

The Lions' sole defeat by the Angkor Warriors was a 0-3 loss in the 1972 Jakarta Anniversary Tournament.

Stange, however, was not buying into the statistics.

"We should be more realistic and not increase the demands for scoring goals," the German said at the pre-match conference yesterday.

"What happens if it's 0-0 after 60 minutes? We must be patient.

"The fans and journalists are very demanding. My demands are very simple: Get the three points."

Even so, captain Shahril Ishak believes goals are the best way to win back fans ahead of the high-profile visits of Japan and Syria next month.

"They pay good money to see us so you can't blame them for expecting a big score, but we must not get too complacent," said the Johor Darul Takzim II forward.

"Against Afghanistan, our midfield wasn't strong enough and we never settled into the game."

Having taken on the job in 2013 with the promise of fast-moving, slick-passing football, Stange insisted yesterday that getting the victory was "much more important than asking for a top-class performance".

It may not be music to the ears of Singapore fans. A crowd of 7,128 were at the 55,000-seat venue for what Stange described as a "painful but successful" result against Afghanistan. He also labelled it "a dirty win".

Singapore are third in Asia's Group E of the World Cup qualifiers with seven points from four games, two behind second-placed Syria and three behind leaders Japan.

The four best runners-up across the eight groups in the Asian section will advance to the third round of World Cup qualifiers as well as the 2019 Asian Cup Finals.

Stange downplayed Singapore's qualifying chances of racking up a huge positive goal difference, pointing to Group A where second-placed United Arab Emirates have a goal difference of +10, six better than the Lions.

The former Belarus coach noted: "In other groups, the team in second place are hammering others; Malaysia are losing 0-6, 0-10. "It's very, very difficult for us to qualify this way."

The return of midfielders Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin from suspension will add steel and creativity to the engine room. But defenders Shaiful Esah and Hafiz Sujad are both in doubt because of injury.

Shahril is expected to be deployed as an impact substitute, while main hit-man Khairul Amri is set to be joined by nippy attackers Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi in a three-pronged front line.

This means striker Fazrul Nawaz, deployed on the right wing against the Afghans, will have to settle for a place on the bench.

The Warriors FC player, who is the S-League's top local scorer with 14 goals in 20 matches, said: "It's frustrating for me to be played out of position.

"I hope to be given a chance up front alongside Amri."

Hariss, who will don the captain's armband in Shahril's absence, called on his team to bag an early goal against a Cambodian side made up mainly of Under-23 players.

He said: "We need to keep our passes simple, wait for the right opening, then pounce. Stick to that, and we should have a good night."


This article was first published on October 13, 2015.
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