Suzuki Cup: We were very unlucky, says Stange

Suzuki Cup: We were very unlucky, says Stange
National football coach Bernd Stange had a disappointing Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup tournament as the Lions crashed out during the group stage match between Singapore and Malaysia on 29 November 2014.

GROUP B

SINGAPORE: 1
(Khairul Amri 83)

MALAYSIA: 3
(Safee Sali 61, Safiq Rahim 90+3-pen, Indra Putra Mahayuddin 90+4)

Dumped out of the AFF Suzuki Cup, by bitter rivals Malaysia no less.

For Lions fans, few things can be more painful than what happened at the National Stadium last night.

But it could have been so different.

As the time on the digital scoreboard showed 90 minutes, Singapore were still on course for the semi-finals.

Seven minutes earlier, Khairul Amri had pulled the Lions level, cancelling out Safee Sali's 61st-minute strike.

Had Singapore held on for the draw, a spot in the last four was theirs.

But the match - the first Causeway Derby at the new National Stadium - blew up in their faces in injury time.

First, left back Hafiz Abu Sujad appeared to nudge Amri Yahyah as the Malaysian striker tried to get on the end of a harmless-looking cross.

The ball trickled out, and the home support of over 45,000 heaved a sigh of relief, thinking the referee had awarded them a goal-kick.

But, instead, match official Alkaf Ahmed Abu Bakar Said from Oman pointed to the penalty spot.

After a lengthy but ultimately futile protest by the Lions, Malaysia's Safiq Rahim stroked home the penalty to send the 3,000-odd Tigers supporters wild.

A minute later, in their desperate search for an equaliser, the Lions went for broke by sending goalkeeper Hassan Sunny up for an indirect free-kick.

But the visitors cleared their lines, and veteran Tigers forward Indra Putra Mahayuddin found himself on the ball.

Like he did during Malaysia's infamous 4-0 triumph at the old National Stadium 12 years ago, he again put the ball into the Singapore goal.

The home fans, having just seen their team's capitulation, bayed for blood.

They hurled plastic bottles and reams of toilet paper at Alkaf and his assistants, Kim Young Ha from South Korea and Deniye Hemathunga from Sri Lanka. The trio were forced to stay on the pitch for about 10 minutes after the game ended.

Facing the press later, Lions coach Bernd Stange tried his best to put on a brave front, but appeared slightly dazed from everything that had just transpired.

When asked about his future, the German said: "As you know, my contract finishes in 2015, and I'm not a youngster.

"I haven't thought about this question, (it's) five minutes after the game. It surprised me a little bit.

"First, we want to have a rest, all together (as a team)... Then we will sit together and fix our strategy.

"If that (the strategy) is the reason we failed, that's what we have to discuss."

But the former Hertha Berlin and Belarus coach was still defiant in defeat.

While he said his team "lacked a little bit of backbone" when compared to the title-winning team of 2012 because of the absence of foreign-born players in the side, he insisted he would stick to the current selection policy.

"The next highlight is the World Cup qualifiers (next year) and the base of our team will be (this) team," he said.

"There is not a Bernd Stange strategy. We have a strategic plan to rebuild this national team.

"It's a process... I'm disappointed we couldn't take the Cup again.

"Very unlucky here, I think. What we have to do is work very hard on the youth development here in Singapore."

However, he feels that Singapore have a strong core of players on which they can rely on in the future.

He said: "We feel very, very sorry for these fantastic fans that we could not deliver more. It's a young team, there's a bright future, eight players can play in next year's SEA Games.

"I'm not so disappointed with the performance. Of course, with the result, there is a deep disappointment and we are all empty.

"But I think we should take the right conclusions."

On the official's decision to award Malaysia the controversial penalty, he said: "I have learnt in my life that a penalty is a penalty if the ref gives it.

"That's rule No.1. Second rule is to be quiet as a coach and watch the replay, before you are full of emotions.

"I cannot follow the fans. From my view, it didn't look like a penalty.

"But I have to see the replay, and if that has happened - he gives such a penalty after 92 minutes - that would be a shame.

"It's not my job to judge the referee. But it's a heartbreaker to lose such a match to such a decision."

msazali@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 30, 2014.
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