Football: Stange gets tough with veteran Lions

National team training session as part of new coach Bernd Stange's preparations for his first competitive game, against Oman next month.

SINGAPORE - Even as he praised the likes of 30-somethings Noh Rahman and Indra Sahdan (both Home United), and Balestier Khalsa's Qiu Li, Singapore national coach Bernd Stange (on the right in photo) had some tough words for the big-name veterans he has omitted from his latest squad.

Forward Qiu Li, 32, and the Home United duo, 34-year-old striker Indra and 32-year-old defender Noh Rahman, were included in the squad he called up on Monday for a five-day stint in preparation for their Group A Asian Cup qualifier against Oman on Aug 14.

Over the last week, The New Paper ran stories about the exclusion of senior players like Mustafic Fahrudin, Daniel Bennett, Shi Jiayi and Shahdan Sulaiman, while youngsters such as Adam Swandi and Khairul Nizam were drafted in.

While he maintained that "the door will always be open", Stange said on Monday: "I have a question for journalists who ask me this stupid question.

"Some of these players are 34, 35 and they had their chance to make it to the next round of World Cup qualifiers.

"Did they do it? No. They lost all their matches. Did they qualify for the Asian Cup? No, they did not.

"Do you give me the guarantee that the 35-year-olds now will make a big jump (in standards)? "No, that's not our future.

"The youngsters we have will improve - they will have the chance."

Stange will meet senior players like Warriors FC's Bennett to discuss how they can continue to contribute to Singapore football.

While the 65-year-old German warned that the Oman clash could be the "last chance" for the veterans who have made his final squad, he expressed his delight over the presence of the three experienced internationals in his current team.

"I'm so happy that Indra, Noh Rahman and Qiu Li can help at this stage," said Stange.

"Even players like Shahril (Ishak), Baihakki (Khaizan) and Shaiful (Esah) are experienced players.

"We cannot play against teams like Oman now with only Under-23 players. We need leaders and a good balance."

After this five-day training programme, the Lions will come together on Aug 3 for final preparations before the Oman game.

The match at the Jalan Besar Stadium will be Stange's first competitive outing with the Lions. He stated in no uncertain terms that if the Oman match ends in defeat, it could spell the end for some of the national team players.

The Lions are drawn in Group A in the qualifiers for the 2015 Asian Cup and lost their first game away to Jordan. 

Stange admitted they will face an uphill task to qualify if they fall to Oman, and that would signal the phasing out of older players.

He said: "The 4-0 defeat by Jordan earlier was a bad start. We will have to beat Oman here to keep our hopes alive. But it will be very difficult.

No future

"In case we lose to Oman, I'll have to be the man who tells them, 'Unfortunately, our next qualification is in 2015, for the 2018 World Cup.

'You are then 36, you have no future (with the national team).'

"I will tell them straight in their face."

As for the omission of in-form LionsXII forward Shahfiq Ghani, Stange said: "All the players in the LionsXII and the Courts Young Lions are candidates for the national squad and they will have their chance."

Stange will be speaking to the various coaches in the Football Association of Singapore stable on Wednesday to get them on the same page, and he will also hold a discussion with S-League clubs on Saturday to share his ideas.

One area he is seriously looking to improve is the standard of football pitches by working with the Singapore Sports Council.

"We have world-class athletes in Singapore in badminton and table tennis. I want to see the tables of the top stars of table tennis. If there are scratches and holes, I agree we play on bad pitches," he said.

"Or I check the nets for the badminton players, are there holes in the nets, or are they of international standard?

"But if they have top-class tables to play ping pong and everything is of international standard for badminton, then I ask for the same in football.

"And the people I have met until now, they will help us, definitely," he insisted.