Stange steps down with a loss, says Lions can reach Asian Cup finals

Stange steps down with a loss, says Lions can reach Asian Cup finals
PHOTO: The New Paper

It started some three years ago, with talk of pass-and-move football, big-name opposition for friendlies and an emphasis on local footballers and youth development.

Bernd Stange's stint as coach of the Singapore national team came to a close in Teheran last night, with the Lions pegged back, launching hopeful balls upfield, while chasing an Afghanistan side that are not allowed to play on their own home ground.

In his last game in charge, Stange came up distinctly short, although they ended the campaign in third spot in the group to earn a spot in the final round of qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup finals.

It was the final Group E Fifa World Cup/Asian Cup qualifier, and Singapore fell 2-1 to an Afghanistan side that comfortably dominated proceedings.

Stange's charges struggled to retain possession, were bereft of ideas, and in the end deserved nothing from a game despite some solid shifts put in by Yasir Hanapi, Hariss Harun, Afiq Yunos and Fazrul Nawaz.

After missing several half-chances as a shaky Singapore defence struggled to settle, Afghanistan finally opened the scoring in the 39th minute.

Khaibar Amani missed several chances when his team fell 1-0 to Singapore at the National Stadium last October, and he fluffed another in the 25th minute of this game, but the Afghan No. 9 finally came good six minutes from the end of the first half.

Afiq could only deflect a sweetly struck Zubayr Amiri cross onto the path of Amani, who bundled the ball past Hassan Sunny.

Second-half substitute Josef Shridel stabbed the ball home in the 79th minute after a long ball from inside the Afghani half caught the Singapore defence napping.

Fazrul bundled home a consolation for Singapore one minute before full-time.

A Safuwan Baharudin header off a Christopher van Huizen corner caused havoc in the Afghanistan penalty box and the Tampines Rovers striker popped up to score.

Led by the dogged running of Tampines midfielder Yasir, the Lions did show some grit in the closing moments, but lacked the guile to break down the Afghan backline.

"Our boys tried their best but today it was not enough against Afghanistan even with a goal in the 89th minute...this is a good team but of course, we can improve further in several areas, including fitness," said Stange in a statement.

"I am very optimistic that this team will make history by qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup - if we keep the team, including players and backroom officials together and also if we provide more support especially in terms of training facilities," added the 68-year-old German.

"I have full optimism on the future of Singapore football but we need everyone to come together and provide full support on this journey towards success. Only with the required amount of resources, including funding, can we achieve more footballing success for this beautiful country."

Stange's tenure as Singapore coach ends with a record of 15 wins, four draws and 16 losses.

Lions' skipper Shahril Ishak is already looking ahead to the future.

"On behalf of my national teammates, I also want to express our gratitude to coach Bernd for his guidance over the past three years," said Shahril.

"Today's result was not how we wanted to end this qualifying campaign, but now we will look ahead to the rest of 2016."

The Lions will have no competitive fixtures until the year-end AFF Suzuki Cup, when they will look to exorcise the ghosts of being eliminated in the opening group stage on home ground in 2014, which was Stange's first tournament in charge of the Lions.

This article was first published on March 30, 2016.
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