European adventure for lions

Bernd Stange (left), newly-appointed coach of Singapore national football team, watching his charges as they take part in a fitness test during a training session held at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The Singapore football team will defend their ASEAN title at the end of the year.

The Lions are record four-time holders of the AFF Suzuki Cup and will co-host this year's competition with Vietnam.

They will play the first-round group stage at the new 55,000-capacity National Stadium, the first competitive tournament the Lions will play in front of their fans at their new home.

The pressure will be on, and with that in mind, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will arrange for the national team and the Under-23 squad earmarked for next year's South east-Asia Games - to be held in Singapore in June 2015 - to head off together for a two-week training camp in France or Austria sometime in June or July.

Speaking to The New Paper last Saturday night, Singapore national coach Bernd Stange said: "The FAS president (Zainudin Nordin) revealed that we will be playing Spain in November, then Juventus and Japan. Till now, we haven't been able to manage against teams like Oman and Jordan, but we must get closer so we don't get too damaged by top teams like Spain.

"In June, both squads will go overseas for two weeks where we will play four games against high quality opposition that are more difficult teams than Oman and Jordan.

"... My expectations of my team is high - we need to take our heads out of the South-east Asian standard."

With Malaysia's domestic club competitions on a break in the middle of the year, and the Courts Young Lions set to sit out of the League Cup and RHB Singapore Cup, Stange will be able to call up the players he wants for the training camp in Europe.

EVENTS

On Thursday, the Singapore Sports Hub announced their list of events for the facility in 2014, and along with a tasty clash against arch-rivals Malaysia on Aug 8, the Lions are also slated to play three high-profile friendlies, believed to be world and European champions Spain, Serie A giants Juventus and Asia's No. 1, Japan.

Stange, who left for Muscat, Oman, with the team early this morning for their final Asian Cup Group A qualifier on Wednesday, will use the overseas training camp and friendly games to prepare to team for what will be a huge assignment in the Suzuki Cup.

In five previous group games of the Asian Cup qualifiers, the Lions have managed just one win, losing the other four matches, conceding 14 goals and scoring three in the process.

Oman are top of Group A on 11 points and, along with second-placed Jordan, have already qualified for the Asian Cup Finals in Australia next year.

CHANCE

Few give Stange's side a chance of returning from the Oman game with a positive result.

But the national coach wants the players to show they've made progress as the Lions build towards the defence of their ASEAN crown.

"I want to see progress, and this includes learning to manage results," he said, on the sidelines of last night's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League encounter between Tampines Rovers and the Courts Young Lions at the Clementi Stadium, which the Stags won 3-2.

With two squads together training and playing friendlies during the mid-year trip to Europe, Stange will have the option of moving the likes of Shakir Hamzah, Shahfiq Ghani and Faris Ramli (all age-qualified to play in the 2015 SEA Games Under-23 football tournament) between both the senior and U-23 squads.

"We don't have enough players to have independent squads, so some players will have to play for both teams, and that is why I'm happy that all coaches (Fandi Ahmad of the MSL's LionsXII and Aide Iskandar of the Courts Young Lions) are playing the same style of football," said Stange.

shamiro@sph.com.sg

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