Football: Lions defeated by Afghanistan as Stange era ends

Bernd Stange (middle) with his players after the 2-1 victory against Myanmar in his last home game last week. After the 1-2 loss to Afghanistan in Teheran last night, Stange advocated higher levels of fitness.
Bernd Stange (middle) with his players after the 2-1 victory against Myanmar in his last home game last week. After the 1-2 loss to Afghanistan in Teheran last night, Stange advocated higher levels of fitness. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Loss has no bearing on Asian Cup standing, but team hurt by sub-standard performance

2018 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING

Afghanistan 2 Singapore 1

Bernd Stange's reign as Singapore coach ended with a loss when his charges went down 1-2 to Afghanistan in their final World Cup qualifier in Iran yesterday. Khaibar Amani and Josef Shirdel scored for the Afghans, with Fazrul Nawaz netting a consolation goal late on.

The result at the Takhti Stadium in neutral Teheran meant his record now stands at 15 wins, four draws and 16 losses. Singapore had already secured third spot before kick-off and are through to the 2019 Asian Cup third qualifying round, which starts next March.

While defeat meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, the sub-par performance, coming after a lacklustre 2-1 win over Myanmar in a friendly on home turf last week, was perhaps more significant.

Against the Afghans, who were fighting to be among the better fourth-placed teams to join the likes of Singapore in the third round, the Lions struggled to create chances against an opponent ranked 151st, three spots below them in the Fifa world rankings.

After the loss, as he has done on several occasions before, Stange pointed to the lack of resources, the insufficient funding, and the inadequate training facilities he faced.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Today's result was not how we wanted to end this qualifying campaign, but now we will look ahead to the rest of 2016.

SHAHRIL ISHAK,looking back on the result.

He added that the players' fitness levels could be improved - despite highlighting this as a key priority when he took on the job almost three years ago. His parting shot was to campaign for stability in the team, as he urged the Football Association of Singapore to keep the team and officials together while also stressing the need for more investment in the game.

"Only with the required amount of resources, including funding, can we achieve more footballing success for this beautiful country," said the former Belarus coach.

Stange and captain Shahril Ishak said the team could be "proud" of what they had achieved.

Yet few would agree with them. In a group that included Japan, Syria, Afghanistan and Cambodia, second spot and a chance to keep 2018 World Cup qualification hopes alive should have been a realistic target.

Yet the Lions finished third, with 10 points, when 12 points (via home and away wins against 183rd-rank-ed Cambodia and Afghanistan) should have been the case.

Questions will be asked why the Lions could not take any points against Syria, when it was only in 2013 that the Lions beat them 2-1 in an Asian Cup qualifier.

Singapore will also cast envious glances at South-east Asian rivals Thailand, who have improved steadily and are through to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers after topping their group.

That the Lions beat Thailand to be Asean champions as recently as 2012 will lead many to question what progress the Lions have made under Stange.

With the German's reign now at an end, there is hope that a new coach could herald a new and better era. But the onus is also on the players - and the new man in charge - to show that their passage to the Asian Cup third qualifying round means something.

Captain Shahril is one who is casting his sights ahead.

He said: "Today's result was not how we wanted to end this qualifying campaign, but now we will look ahead to the rest of 2016.

"There is the AFF Suzuki Cup at the end of the year which we are all looking forward to."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'LIONS DEFEATED AS STANGE ERA ENDS'. Print Edition | Subscribe