Lions left red-faced by Guam

Lions left red-faced by Guam
Singapore’s horror show began in the 37th minute, when Guam defender Shawn Nicklaw bundled the ball past Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud to give the visitors a shock lead.

Singapore 2

Guam 2

AFTER 685 days, 23 games, nine wins, three draws, 11 defeats and a disastrous ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup campaign - the Bernd Stange era hit a new low yesterday, courtesy of a 2-2 draw against Guam at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

With mostly only wins against regional minnows Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar highlighting the German's nearly two-year reign, it was perhaps apt that it was one of world football's lesser lights who dealt Stange's Lions the latest blow.

Guam, whose football association was founded only in 1975, was until 2009 winless in 35 years against Fifa-ranked national teams.

But yesterday, the 167th-ranked side showed history meant little by dominating the 153rd-ranked Lions, whose rich footballing culture dates back more than a century and who, in the 1960s, boasted some of Asia's best players.

As Guam coach Gary White said, his team came to Singapore to make a statement: "To all those news reports asking why is Singapore playing Guam, you know now.

"Singapore are four-time Suzuki Cup champions. We are an island of just 200,000 people. But the players are very proud people, there is belief in our camp.

"Honestly, we are disappointed. It (the draw) feels like we had lost the game."

Perhaps, alarm bells should be raised as to how the Lions, a four-time regional champion boasting players eyed by Australian and European clubs, find themselves unable to beat a team from football's remote outposts.

Twice the visitors went ahead - through defender Shawn Nicklaw's close-range finish in the 37th minute and captain Jason Cunliffe's classy swerving shot with the outside of his left boot in the 73rd minute.

But the hosts, cheered on by a modest crowd of 1,864, clawed back on both occasions. First, through winger Faris Ramli's 54th minute header off right-back Ismadi Mukhtar's cross and with 11 minutes left, defender Baihakki Khaizan prodded home Shahril's delivery.

Following Thursday's 0-2 loss in Thailand, the Lions have now won only once in the last five matches.

Against Guam, there were flashes of the quick-passing game Stange advocates, but as he nears two years in charge in May, it begs the question of whether the Lions have improved under his guidance.

Stange replied: "I see progress (against Guam), hopefully I'm not alone in seeing this.

"There is very little time (at international level) to make big steps (as players have club commitments). I personally believe in my players."

But while the German sees progress in not beating a team which, until the last decade, confined their footballing exploits largely to the South Pacific, the same cannot be said of the fans.

A section of the crowd booed the team off the field while others took to social media to air their displeasure.

The Football Association of Singapore said last week that it believes the national team's head coach is doing positive work.

However, recent results - including the national Under-22s' dismal performance in the Asian Football Confederation Under-23 Championship qualifiers - seem to suggest otherwise.

Stange's next major assignment is June's World Cup qualifying tournament. But unless much improvement is done in two months, the odds of Singapore football making an impact in the qualifiers is slim.

Perhaps they could do with a dose of the belief that Guam displayed.

meng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 1, 2015.
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