Time for Lions to step it up at Syria match

By all accounts, Syria held their own when they drew 1-1 with table-toppers Jordan in their Asian Cup Group A qualifier.

The Syrians are a solid team, and I hope the Lions turn in the kind of performance that will bring cheer to their own fans at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday night when the two sides meet in their Asian Cup qualifier.

Singapore coach Bernd Stange has called for time to implement the modern style of football. Appointed in May, it is still too early to pass judgment over whether the German's attempt at improving the Lions has worked.

But the national team can do with a positive outing on Tuesday to at least indicate they are on the right path.

Last Thursday, Stange's Lions plodded to a 1-0 friendly win over Laos.

Singapore, the reigning ASEAN champions, struggled to break down a Lao side largely made up of under-23 players.

As Singapore fumbled to victory, Thailand beat Bahrain 1-0 and Vietnam pulled one over Qatar, coming from behind to win 2-1.

Malaysia fell 3-1 to the United Arab Emirates. As we build towards hosting the Suzuki Cup next year at the new National Stadium, it is worrying that our closest rivals are testing themselves against the bigger boys and showing form, while we struggle to overcome Laos.

Pre-game, Stange constantly referred to Laos as a team on par with Singapore.

I disagree.

Just last year, Singapore were crowned ASEAN champions for a record fourth time when Shahril Ishak lifted the Suzuki Cup.

En route to that title triumph, the team produced an exhilarating display of attacking football to demolish fancied Malaysia 3-1 in the cauldron of the Bukit Jalil Stadium.

The Lions have not come anywhere close to that kind of performance since. There are already rumblings among the fans. It is why I feel it is important Stange's Lions play a game on Tuesday that shows they are on the right path.

And breathe new confidence among the faithful. The Lions are a team in transition.

Stange is working to get Singapore to catch up with the changes that have revolutionised world football.

New faces need to be drafted in, some veterans will have to make way.

Some experienced players will need to unlearn and re-learn.

FITNESS IS CRITICAL

Crucially, the players must get their fitness up to the required level for international football, while still putting in performances for their respective clubs every week.

Under Stange's watch, the Lions have played six games, losing three and winning three.

They lost their only competitive fixture 2-0 to Oman at the Jalan Besar Stadium in their second Asian Cup qualifier.

That loss was no disgrace, although the 6-1 thrashing by China in a friendly hurt.

The Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) strategic plan aims to get the Republic into the top 10 of Asian football by 2015.

Singapore are currently ranked 29th of 46 countries in Asia.

It will take some doing, even with Stange at the helm.

The 65-year-old German has worked magic with his former teams, most notably taking Belarus from No. 90 in the Fifa rankings to a high of 36.

Stange is always positive and confident.

He constantly asserts his team will be able to get a result against stronger opposition.

With Syria just one point ahead of the Lions, perhaps the home clash on Tuesday is our best chance.

At the very least, Stange's Lions should at least show enough to suggest they are on the right track

shamiro@sph.com.sg


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