Football: Lions relaxed but still raring to beat Afghans

The Lions training ahead of their World Cup qualifier match against Afghanistan.
The Lions training ahead of their World Cup qualifier match against Afghanistan.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

While many will view Singapore's World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan as a dead rubber, the team will not be taking today's match in Teheran lightly.

The Lions are already through to the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers although their road to the 2018 World Cup has ended.

But ahead of the clash in Teheran, skipper Shahril Ishak said that while the players were relaxed, they are no less motivated for victory.

He said: "It has been a good qualifying campaign so far, and we want to end it with a good result.

"We want to do our best to win the game and to improve our Fifa world ranking... and give us a better draw for the next round of the Asian Cup qualification next year."

The draw for the third round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers is expected to take place next Thursday.

The team will also be motivated to give national coach Bernd Stange a winning record over the course of his 31/2-year reign.

Going into his final game in charge today, the 68-year-old German holds a scorecard of 15 wins, 15 losses and four draws since he took over the helm in 2013.

He declined to address any queries about his exit, focusing only on the task at hand in Iran. He said: "We are in a good position and we want to continue the positive momentum.

"Both teams will aim to achieve three points on Tuesday and I want to see a big fight from our players to deliver a result."

On the attacking front, Fazrul Nawaz, Khairul Nizam and Sahil Suhaimi are striking options for Stange. Nizam said last week: "Every chance that I'm given, I grab it with both hands and I got to prove myself."

But midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman has remained behind in Singapore on Saturday to tend to his newborn.

While Stange will be heading for the exit after the game, his German counterpart Petar Segrt will be looking to make an impression with the Afghans.

Segrt, a former national coach of Georgia, took over the helm in November after Slaven Skeledzic was sacked, following losses to Singapore (0-1) and Syria (2-5) in October.

Alvin Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2016, with the headline 'Lions relaxed but still raring to beat Afghans'. Print Edition | Subscribe