Give me more time, says Coach Stange after Lions lost 2-1 to Syria

 ST
Hafiz Sujad (centre) and Safuwan Baharudin trying to gain possession against their Syrian opponents last night. The Lions, who were down to 10 men after the dismissal of Madhu Mohana, lost the match 1-2. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
REUTERS
Bernd Stange had criticised the media for not being positive and fans for being demanding. But his tenure has been marked with soundbites that morph and change with time. It is hard to hear him sing a consistent tune. PHOTO: REUTERS

No room for negativity despite loss to Syria, says German, after failing to transform side

What now, what gives, Bernd Stange?

Hired after a lengthy and exhaustive headhunt to take Singapore football to the next level, he has still not delivered, despite a lengthy and exhaustive wait.

With the Lions tumbling out of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers after last night's 2-1 defeat by Syria at the National Stadium, the German has said plenty but has had little to show after 21/2 years in the job.

Although the 7,468 fans present yesterday at Kallang were hardly a capacity crowd, the impassioned cries and groans of anguish showed how much they care about the Lions and Singapore football. They are waiting for a coach who can bring them joy. But Stange, who said two years ago that he needed six months to transform the side, declared last night that he needs more time.

He advocated a slick passing game, but Syria schooled the hosts on how it should be done. That Singapore are still relying on the odd set-piece and long ball to threaten will raise questions about just how much the team have improved under the German.

While Omar Kharbin will be painted as the villain after his alleged gamesmanship got Madhu Mohana sent off, the Syrian striker had enough genuine quality to inflict some real damage.

He ghosted in at the far post to open the scoring with a 20th-minute header and three minutes into stoppage time, he thanked the Lions for leaving him unmarked by drilling home the winner.

Safuwan Baharudin equalised in the 88th minute with a penalty after Alaa Al Shbbli's handball but that was Singapore's only shot on target the whole night.

MAINTAIN BELIEF

I don't allow any negative things, not today, not today. We have still a chance and I need your support to be positive, to praise the players and all the other things will come definitely. Believe in that.

COACH BERND STANGE

Stange had criticised the media for not being positive and fans for being demanding. But his tenure has included soundbites that morph and change with time. It is hard to hear him sing a consistent tune.

In October 2013, Stange led the Lions to a 2-1 win over Syria in the 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers. Yet last night's events showed the current gulf between the two sides.

As Syria celebrate sealing a top-two place in Group E and the possible double bonanza of a World Cup place and an automatic 2019 Asian Cup berth, Singapore face the grind of a third round of qualifiers for the continental showpiece in April 2017 after losing to the faster, fitter and fired-up Syrians.

Apart from the 2-1 Asian Cup qualifying win over the same opponents two years ago and June's 0-0 draw against Japan in a World Cup qualifier in Saitama in June, Stange has little to crow about in a catalogue of footballing mishaps.

He had hoped to mould the team in his image after his appointment but after losing to Syria yesterday, he came out firing again.

Sounding annoyed, he said: "All players are good enough today and all players gave 100 per cent. They gave all they have, in their minds and with their fitness and with their ability. But the quality of a few teams is too big.

"I want everybody to be positive, to help Singapore football, to help our team to go to the United Arab Emirates in 11/2 years' time in March 2017 (Asian Cup qualifiers third round). We have to be ready and this team will be a few years older.

"I don't allow any negative things, not today, not today. We have still a chance and I need your support to be positive, to praise the players and all the other things will come definitely. Believe in that."

At least his self-confidence is intact. He said soon after his appointment in May 2013: "With my experience of 129 international matches, in the biggest stadiums of the world - from Wembley to the Maracana - I think I can deliver a lot."

Singapore's long-suffering football fans are still waiting.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Give me more time: Stange'. Print Edition | Subscribe