Amri a big worry

Gingerly, Singapore's No. 1 striker Khairul Amri hobbled out of the National Stadium dressing room and into the mixed zone with his thigh heavily strapped, aided by teammate and skipper Shahril Ishak.

It was a sorry sight that could spell the end of Singapore's hopes of direct qualification to the 2019 Asian Cup, should Amri fail to recover in time from a right hamstring injury he suffered a split second before he struck the ball and saw his weak penalty saved in last night's 2-1 win over Cambodia.

With home qualifiers against Japan (Nov 12) and Syria (Nov 17) looming, national football coach Bernd Stange admitted: "It would be a big miss for our team."

For the second successive match at the National Stadium, the Lions toiled in a dreary encounter.

It was a complete contrast to how they started their World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifying campaign, beating Cambodia 4-0 in Phnom Penh.

But visiting coach Lee Tae Hoon still thinks Singapore are in with a good shout of qualifying for the Asian Cup Finals.

To do so, Stange's men have to either top Group E or finish among the best four runners-up out of the eight groups. Otherwise, they have to go through another round of qualifiers.

"Japan and Syria are on a different level compared to South-east Asian teams," Lee told The New Paper last night. "But Singapore played very well against Syria away in Oman (losing 1-0) and they could make home advantage count.

"I understand that the Singapore players also have to deal with a busy league schedule so their condition is not so good.

"With more recovery and preparation, they can have a good performance in their next two games."

It is clear, though, that the Lions need to rediscover the form they displayed at the start of the campaign.

They could also do with a quick recovery by Amri, who has been in superb form, scoring half of his 30 international goals in the last 29 months, including the winner over Afghanistan last Thursday.

The 30-year-old, who is likely to be out for three weeks, told The New Paper: "The penalty miss doesn't bother me as much as the injury.


"I had already felt something on Sunday during training, and I was just hoping nothing bad would happen tonight.

"Unfortunately I heard a pop while taking the penalty and the hamstring just gave way. I don't know if it is a pull or a tear.

"I'm hoping for the best because I really want to come back and play a part in the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers and Malaysia Cup."

While it's never a good feeling to see a teammate injured, this could be a big break for Fazrul Nawaz, who came on for Amri in the second half to score what turned out to be the winner within two minutes of his introduction.

The 30-year-old believes he is the best form of his life as he jointly leads the S.League scorers' list with 14 goals, and has already banged in four for his country this year - making him the most prolific Singaporean footballer this year.

The Warriors striker, who has been regularly shunted out to the right wing, said: "I'm sad to see Amri injured because it's my wish to play up front with him, and I continue to hope.

"I will be up for it regardless of what position I play.

"I thank God for the opportunity to score the crucial goal tonight and I believe my hard work is paying off."


A goal in front and with the clock ticking down, the Lions decided to indulge in a bit of keep ball last night.

But, far from the slick, tippy-tappy football many had expected them to exhibit against minnows Cambodia, Bernd Stange's men never looked like they had the the ball truly under control.

A series of misplaced passes drew loud groans from the 9,417 fans who had turned up at the National Stadium, and the uninspiring build-up ended with left back Shakir Hamzah sending a puzzling pass straight out for a Cambodia goal-kick, telling the story of their night.

Despite his side winning their World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier 2-1 - the team's second win in a week following a 1-0 win over Afghanistan here last Thursday - Stange was again left to defend his side's below-par performance in the post-match press conference.

One reason, he offered, was the condition of his players as it was the tail end of the club football season in South-east Asia.

Another, said the German, was the team's determination to stick to a passing game, even though they struggled with it on a number of occasions.

"(Compare the performance) with our last performance against Afghanistan, where we were permanently kicking long balls," said Stange.

"We had to find our way back to combination (passing) football, and sometimes we did not find the right way to go forward.

"We passed to many balls without a target.

"We have to improve that and we have to make it better."

Skipper Hariss Harun, who showed drive from the centre of midfield which was lacking in many other areas of the pitch last night, agreed.

"We tried to keep the ball on the ground, but we were just not as sharp as we should have been," he said.

"We weren't keeping the ball long enough, some passes were misdirected... But we have to make these mistakes sometimes to learn, and the important thing now is that we learn and not repeat them."

The 24-year-old, a key part of Johor Darul Ta'zim's triumphant Malaysian Super League campaign and run to the AFC Cup semi-finals, said the players were keen to put the poor performances against Afghanistan and Cambodia behind them, and focus on the positives.


The Lions are in a good position to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup Finals for the first time in Singapore's history.

"It was great for our confidence that we got the job done to get to 10 points (from five games)," said Hariss.

"We know in terms of performance, we should have done better and scored more goals.

"Just before and after the goal by Fazrul (Nawaz in the 47th minute), we created many chances but could not put them away. "We've got to work on it, and regroup.

"We showed glimpses of how we want to play, and now we have to do it for a longer period.

"Still, the six points in the last two games have put us in a good position and we have to just look forward now and believe we can make it to the next round."

This article was first published on October 14, 2015.
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