Football: Singapore coach Bernd Stange eyes historic 2019 Asian Cup place

SINGAPORE - As coach Bernd Stange prepares the Lions for their toughest test in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign - an away match against Asian powerhouse Japan on Tuesday - the German has set his sights on a more realistic target.

Speaking to the media on Monday before his side take on the Samurai Blue, he said: "I believe in this team (Singapore). I'm quite confident that the team can make history by qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates."

Singapore's only participation in the Asian Cup was in 1984, when the Republic qualified automatically as hosts.

For the first time, the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup finals and 2019 Asian Cup finals are merged. The Lions are in Group E alongside Afghanistan, Cambodia, Japan and Syria.

The four best runners-up across the eight groups in the Asian section will advance to the World Cup qualifying third round as well as the finals of the Asian Cup. The remaining four runners-up will advance to the Asian Cup qualifying third round.

Singapore beat Cambodia 4-0 in Phnom Penh last Friday in the first match of their campaign and will look to put up a good performance against Japan, who similarly dismantled Iraq 4-0 in a friendly match on the same day.

With Japan likely to clinch first place in the group and make quick work of Singapore in Tuesday's clash at the Saitama Stadium, Stange has called on his players to play without pressure and enjoy the occasion.

"First of all, we are all looking forward to play Japan," said the 67-year-old. "For many years, we have not played against such a team (so) we will really enjoy. All the players want to play and be part of a great football party against Japan."

drajac@sph.com.sg