World Cup Qualifier: Stange glum despite victory

National football coach Bernd Stange has looked happier in defeat.

But last night, despite a 1-0 win over world No. 150 Afghanistan at the National Stadium to stay third in Group E of World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying, the German looked glum as he walked into the post-match press conference.

The 67-year-old said: "It was a dirty win."

And, unlike most of his players, Stange was spot on.

With five shots at goal against the Afghans' 18, the Lions looked more like the away team, except for a 15-minute spell in the second half when they forced five corners, one of which was headed in by Khairul Amri in the 72nd minute for the winner.

Having just two training sessions on a new pitch will not be a good enough reason as the visitors, with equal practice time, played the quick, short passing game which Stange has always envisioned for his team.

The Lions, on the other hand, reverted to hopeful and mostly aimless long balls.


Wing play was almost non-existent as Hafiz Abu Sujad and Fazrul Nawaz showed more graft than craft.

Without their leading central midfielders Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin, both suspended, world No. 157 Singapore sputtered in the engine room without a ball winner.

"We were lucky to win 1-0 against a strong team," said Stange.

"We took a while to cover for the absence of Hariss and Safuwan. We changed our tactics throughout the game, and it didn't work. We were lucky not to go down."

Indeed, Afghanistan's Khaibar Amani had a night to forget as he missed five good chances, including an open goal just before half-time, while Singapore defenders Nazrul Ahmad Nazari and Baihakki Khaizan also had to clear off the line.

Faysal Shayesteh also had a good penalty claim waved away by Hong Kong referee Ng Chiu Kok just two minutes after the restart.

Stange conceded: "The speed and power of the game were too high for some players in our team.

"Even with the win, I am not so excited because we have hard yards to go. The whole team covered for the mistakes we made.

"Amri gave everything he had and scored, but it is hard to praise any player when our performance was just average."

There is good news, however, as Singapore are just two points behind second-placed Syria, who last night lost 3-0 to group leaders Japan, who are a further point ahead.

The Lions will face Cambodia at the National Stadium on Tuesday.

To qualify for the Asian Cup for the first time, the Lions have to finish top or as one of the four best runners-up from the eight groups.

Otherwise, they will go into another round of qualifiers.

Stange said: "It will be a long and hard campaign for us. (Playing combination football, a short, quick, passing game) is the dream of the national coach, a European coach, but it's daily work.

"We are on seven points now, we have to go to 10 after the Cambodia game."

Amri still the goal-to guy

By his own admission, he hasn't exactly been firing on all cylinders for the LionsXII this season.

He has scored just five goals scored in the Malaysian Super League and, in four tries, he couldn't find the back of the net in the Malaysia Cup this term.

But Singapore striker Khairul Amri is a different beast when he pulls on the national team jersey.

Scoring his 30th international goal to help the Lions beat Afghanistan 1-0 last night at the National Stadium, the 30-year-old has now netted five times in just nine games for Singapore this year.

When the chips were down, with Afghanistan dominating and looking the likelier winners, up stepped Amri to flick home Faris Ramli's corner in the 72nd minute.

The match-winner told The New Paper: "I really wanted to do something.

"We didn't know if the goal was going to come, but I just kept trying. I'm so happy and relieved to score and help the team win."

Since his international debut in 2004, Amri has been scoring the goals when it mattered, most notably in three AFF Championship finals which Singapore won in 2005, 2007 and 2012.

Despite numerous injuries which led to an incredible 68-month international goal drought, he has gone on to earn more than 100 caps.

Last night, Amri was honoured by the Football Association of Singapore and Nike, who presented him with a golden boot for his achievement.

Quite appropriately for Singapore's goal king, he scored the only goal of the game when his country needed him most.

Without Aleksandar Duric, Indra Sahdan and Noh Alam Shah, Amri stepped up.

Modestly, he said: "This is football. We were all over the place before we scored. It's almost the exact opposite against Syria when I missed so many chances.

"I couldn't have scored all the goals I did by myself and I have to thank my coaches for their faith and my team mates for their service.

"It feels good to be appreciated by the FAS and our fans."

While the first half of his 30 goals were scored over a nine-year period, he has poached the next 15 in just a little more than two years.

Three of those have come at the new National Stadium, but last night's effort was his first match winner.

"For the earlier part of my international career, I either came off the bench or started on the wing," said Amri. "Now, I'm thankful to be given the responsibility to be the main striker. I'm feeling fit and sharp and I want to repay the faith of everyone who has supported me by continuing to score."

This article was first published on October 9, 2015.
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