There were no ifs and buts.
Without hesitation, national football coach Bernd Stange told The New Paper in an interview yesterday: "We must beat Malaysia on Aug 8 and we should win the Suzuki Cup at the end of the year.
"If we don't have such ambitions, then we should tell the organisers we don't want to play, please take us out of the competition." It is exactly a year to the day since the 66-year-old German was appointed Singapore coach.
At his unveiling on May 15 last year, Stange said: "There are 3.5 million Singaporeans. That's a lot of young talent. We have the potential to have a powerful national team."
One year on, the former coach of Belarus and Iraq has not lost any of his enthusiasm and optimism.
While Singapore are still far from being Asian powerhouses, there have been steady steps taken in the right direction.
Over the last 12 months, Stange has led the Lions to five wins in 11 A international matches, with the standout result a 2-1 win over Syria at the Jalan Besar Stadium last October.
Singapore's Fifa ranking has risen from 165th to 147th, and results over the next six months will determine whether the national team are continuing to move in the right direction.
After finishing bottom of their group in the Asian Cup Qualifiers for the 2015 Finals, the next big test for the Lions will be the glamour friendly against Malaysia on Aug 8 at the new National Stadium.
It may be a friendly, but it will be the first match the Lions will play at their new home, and with 55,000 fans expected to fill the stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub, Stange knows the team will be under pressure, especially with the match being held one day before the country's National Day celebrations.
The Suzuki Cup will roll around a little over three months later, and it will be co-hosted by Singapore and Vietnam.
MAKE IT FIVE
Kicking off on Nov 22, defending champions Singapore are record four-time winners of South-east Asia's most prestigious football competition and fans here will expect the Lions to at least make the final on home soil.
"It is very difficult to win consecutive Suzuki Cups but we need to try to win the Suzuki Cup, to defend our title with home advantage," he said.
"These are games and tournaments played on home ground. We should try to win, even if we have a young team, average age maybe 23-24."
"Even if we have only Singapore-born boys, not naturalised boys, there is no reason for the home country not to go for the win."
"Let me tell you something, I hate excuses in football more than all the other things."
"Excuses are the worst thing in football - we have a young team, we have no foreigners, we have no preparation, we have semi-professional players. If we have problems, then we have to solve the problems to make success."
The upcoming Causeway friendly will be Stange's first taste of a fiery derby, but he knows what it stands for.
"We should beat Malaysia at home, that's a must because of tradition (Singapore have lost just once to Malaysia in their last 12 meetings) and win the hearts of our fans," said Stange.
Die-hard Singapore fans can then expect "fireworks", as the Football Association of Singapore line up a host of high-profile international matches for both the senior and under-23 national teams before the Suzuki Cup.
TNP had earlier reported that Juventus will be here to play a Singapore selection on Aug 18, before the Lions possibly take on Asia's No. 1 Japan in October.
Said Stange: "We will go to Reunion Island and play the France Under-21s (on June 2), that's the first big match for us.
"Then we will go to Austria from July 7 to 27. We will play six matches there, three with the national team, three with the SEA Games team, against strong opponents (in matches) we cannot win. But it will be a great experience, and we have two weeks together.
"After Ramadan, we will have international matches here, against Malaysia on Aug 8 and one closed-door match four or five days before that to test the conditions of the new stadium.
"Until the end of the year, we have a lot of activities every month. We have international Fifa dates with opponents I can't speak about, yet."
"These will be, like Katy Perry's song, fireworks of international matches."
Let me tell you something, I hate excuses in football more than all the other things... If we have problems, then we have to solve the problems to make success.
This article was published on May 15 in The New Paper.
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