Football: National coach Stange says LionsXII not up to standard

LionsXII top scorer Faris Ramli homing in on the Perak goal in a 2-1 success, one of eight MSL wins at Jalan Besar Stadium. But the Singapore side could manage only one away win all season as they finished seventh.
LionsXII top scorer Faris Ramli homing in on the Perak goal in a 2-1 success, one of eight MSL wins at Jalan Besar Stadium. But the Singapore side could manage only one away win all season as they finished seventh.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Bottom-half MSL finish not good enough for a team made up mostly of national players

They won the Malaysia FA Cup and made a one-spot improvement in the Malaysia Super League (MSL).

Yet, Singapore coach Bernd Stange feels that the LionsXII did not perform up to expectations, especially when the majority of the team feature for the senior Lions.

The German told The Straits Times: "To me, the LionsXII cannot be finishing in the bottom half of a Malaysian league.

"That is not the standard. Most of the LionsXII players are from the national team. How then can a national team draw with Japan and then not do well in the MSL?"

In May, the LionsXII clinched the Malaysia FA Cup with a 3-1 win over Kelantan in the final at Bukit Jalil.

They went on to finish seventh in the 12-team MSL after a eighth-placed finish last season.

UNHAPPY WITH LEAGUE POSITION

Most of the LionsXII players are from the national team. How then can a national team draw with Japan and then not do well in the MSL?

BERND STANGE Singapore national football coach

In between, in June, nine of the men featured in the Singapore line-up that held Asian giants Japan to a 0-0 draw in a 2018 World Cup qualifier at the Saitama Stadium.

Stange said: "When we gathered earlier this week for training, I had a briefing and I let the players know that it was not good enough.

"We must improve."

His comments could be seen as a wake-up call, with a Qatar friendly tomorrow before a crucial World Cup qualifier against Syria in Oman next Thursday.

In the latest squad unveiled on Monday for the two matches, 14 out of 23 players are from the LionsXII.

Stange's sentiments echoed Fandi Ahmad's assessment of their season last Saturday.

The LionsXII coach said after the final fixture, a 3-0 home win over relegated Sime Darby: "We should have been fighting for third or fourth place, but that's football. If you don't win away, it's going to cost you.

"Last season we won four times away from home but, this season, we won only once."

Perhaps the only mitigating factor is the LionsXII's inability to field foreign imports. The other 11 teams are allowed to use up to four foreigners in a league match.

A look at the MSL top scorers' list reveals just how valuable some of the foreign players have been, with the top seven all non-Malaysians.

PDRM's Mali forward Dramane Traore finished tops with 19 goals ahead of pair of Argentinians on 12, Pahang's Matias Conti and Johor Darul Takzim's Luciano Figueroa.

Faris Ramli was the LionsXII's top scorer with eight goals, the same return as the top Malaysian scorer, Selangor's Afiq Azmi.

Despite the unsatisfactory season, Fandi believes his men have matured from having to play week in, week out in the league.

"Generally, the players have improved and there are a lot of positive signs in the players," he said. "We look forward to the Malaysia Cup and we should have more confidence."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'LionsXII not up to standard: Stange'. Print Edition | Subscribe