Football: Ignored by Stange, footballers seek chance to return

Geylang captain Isa Halim leading the way during training, ahead of the big S-League clash against Warriors FC tomorrow. The former Lion has put his injury problems behind him and is aiming to impress the new national coach who takes over from the outgoin
Geylang captain Isa Halim leading the way during training, ahead of the big S-League clash against Warriors FC tomorrow. The former Lion has put his injury problems behind him and is aiming to impress the new national coach who takes over from the outgoing Bernd Stange. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Ignored by Stange in his time at the helm, a handful of footballers seek chance to return

You could say he was burned by Bernd, so it's logical that one of the players looking forward to seeing the back of national football coach Bernd Stange next month is Geylang International's Daniel Bennett, 38.

Bennett, who is Singapore's most capped footballer (128 appearances), told The Straits Times: "Stange told me quite bluntly that he was never going to call me up so I knew there was no hope (of selection). He said I looked fit but was too old.

"Now it's up to the new coach. I love playing for my country, I was lucky to be able to do it many times, I'm enjoying my football now and I'll always be available for the national team."

 

Bennett is one of those within football circles hoping that the departure of the German after a 35-month reign will spell a new dawn for the Lions, especially after an average World Cup qualifying campaign.

Also eager to rejoin the national fray is Bennett's team-mate and captain Isa Halim.

LIVING FOR BIG GAMES

Putting on the national jersey, getting the goosebumps as we sing the national anthem, feeling the pressure, and hearing the fans.

 ISA HALIM, on what he misses most when cast aside from the national side.

The defensive midfielder, who played a starring role in Singapore's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup triumph in 2012, was last called up in 2013.

He was among the players who some felt would have made a difference during Singapore's dismal 2014 Suzuki Cup campaign, where the Lions crashed out in the group stage on home soil.

Now 29, the tough-tackling Isa said: "Whoever the new coach is, I just hope that he will give everyone a fair chance and judge us on merit.

"I was struggling a bit with injuries over the past year, but I've got past the physical and mental barriers and I hope to build on the momentum.

NOT GIVING UP
 

Even after being dropped, I always had hope, especially after Warriors won the S-League, but the call never came.

HAFIZ RAHIM, who believes he can still contribute to the national team.

"Putting on the national jersey, getting the goosebumps as we sing the national anthem, feeling the pressure, and hearing the fans... I miss all that and I hope to come back (to the team) one day."

With the Suzuki Cup in Myanmar and the Philippines looming in November, there is extra motivation for players to impress the new Lions coach in time to make the squad for the biennial championships.

Warriors FC's Hafiz Rahim, 32, is another player looking forward to the new reign.

He enjoyed a run in the national set-up late in the Raddy Avramovic era and was also part of the 2012 Suzuki Cup-winning team.

The attacker was called up by Stange in 2013, scored in a friendly match against Laos, but was subsequently axed despite being a regular for his club and winning the S-League in 2014.

He said: "When Raddy started picking me I thought this could be the start of my international career after my injury problems.

"Even after being dropped, I always had hope, especially after Warriors won the S-League, but the call never came.

"I know I can still contribute to the national team and hopefully the new coach thinks likewise."

The new coach will likely be appointed in July, after the Football Association of Singapore elections in June.

Even in such a short time frame, and with defending champions Thailand in good form, Bennett, a three-time AFF Cup winner, believes victory is within the Lions' grasp.

"Did anybody believe we could win it in 2012? Even though there was a lot of negativity we did it," said the defender.

"I don't think we'll be favourites, Thailand are, but we are among the teams who have an outside chance of winning."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2016, with the headline 'PLAYERS AWAIT NEW LIONS COACH'. Print Edition | Subscribe