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Lions take good first step

The team scored a 2-0 friendly win over Myanmar with its short, crisp passes, high-intensity pressing and marauding fullbacks. -TNP
Sanjay Nair

Fri, Jun 07, 2013
The Straits Times

Singapore right-back Faritz Hameed evading the tackles of Myanmar players at the Thuwunnu Stadium. He crossed superbly for Khairul Amri's opening goal.

SINGAPORE - The Bernd Stange era is only 90 minutes old, but the Lions are already looking like a different pride from the class of 2012.

Last night's 2-0 friendly win over Myanmar provided glimpses into the German's tactical vision for the ASEAN football champions: short, crisp passes, high-intensity pressing in the final third, the employment of marauding fullbacks and constant movement into open spaces.

Singapore carried out the instructions well in patches. There were times when they were guilty of staying put and resorting to their old habit of pumping long balls forward.

Said Stange, 65, at his first Lions post-match press conference: "We played very, very well for the first 30 minutes, that is exactly the kind of football we like to play in the future.

"Later, we lost the way, so we need to improve physically to do this for longer periods. It's a step-by-step process that will take time."

The Saxony native was also no angel. He lost his temper momentarily when goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud aimlessly thumped the ball up front instead of finding a team-mate closer to his goal.

The quick one-touch play and off-the-ball movement led to the Lions' opener in the 10th minute. Right-back Faritz Hameed, arguably Singapore's best performer at the Thuwunnu Stadium, overlapped well to swing in an inch-perfect cross for Khairul Amri to nod home from close range.

Veterans Indra Sahdan - making his first international appearance in nearly five years - and Qiu Li led the front line with aplomb, often dropping back to press their opponents and win the ball back.

"It's tiring to keep up this intensity but it's good because the players were fighting for a system that worked," said captain-for-the-day Indra, who was filling in for injured talisman Shahril Ishak.

The forwards' hassling led to a free kick being awarded just outside the box in the 12th minute. Set-piece specialist Shaiful Esah stepped up with a sweet strike from 25m.

The Tampines Rovers left-back then imitated Gareth Bale's heart-shaped fists celebration, earning cheers from the 5,000-strong crowd which included the Football Association of Singapore adviser Ho Peng Kee.

The hosts, essentially an Under-23 outfit preparing for the SEA Games on home soil in December, hit the crossbar and post before the break. Captain Kyaw Zayar Win also saw his penalty palmed away by Izwan after Baihakki Khaizan pushed his opponent in the box.

More gloom awaited Myanmar, who were reduced to 10 men on the hour mark after Yan Aung Win appeared to kick Shaiful's face after tussling for the ball.

On a brighter note, Stange handed debuts to 17-year-old Adam Swandi and journeyman defender Shariff Samat, son of former national skipper Samad Allapitchay.

But Adam's much-trumpeted 45-minute cameo was quiet.

"The pace was really fast, so it was tough for me. I'm going to start building myself up physically to be ready for my next opportunity," said the lithe playmaker who plays for French third-tier side FC Metz's youth team.

Stange feels that Adam needs a few more years to be a complete player, saying: "He has a lot to learn and needs to get stronger physically."

Still, Stange believes the positives from yesterday's showing puts the Lions in good stead not just for Friday's friendly against Laos in Vientiane, but also the upcoming Asian Cup qualifiers against Oman and Syria.

He said: "We achieved two goals - we got a good result and tested a lot of players. It's a good first step."

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