Lions labour for 2-1 win against Cambodia in World Cup qualifier

Faris Ramli celebrating his goal in the first half of the World Cup qualifying match between Singapore and Cambodia.
Faris Ramli celebrating his goal in the first half of the World Cup qualifying match between Singapore and Cambodia.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Stange hits out at criticism after match, with Lions facing daunting visits by Japan, Syria

2018 WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS


Singapore 2

Cambodia 1


As coach Bernd Stange had ordered, Singapore got the three points in a 2-1 win over Cambodia last night, keeping their 2018 World Cup qualification hopes alive.

But, for the second time in six days at the National Stadium, the Lions were far from convincing or clinical against opponents they were supposed to cruise past.

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The German, 67, insisted: "Should I sit here and apologise for our performance? No, I don't think so. Not when we have 10 points.

 

"We achieved exactly what we wanted. The demands for scoring goals, it's not easy for us. I would have liked 4-0 or 5-0. But the pressure from media and fans will increase for the games against Japan and Syria.

"My target is the same again: Six points from those matches."

Singapore had beaten Cambodia 4-0 in their opening World Cup qualifier in June. Cambodia entered the game without a win, a point or a goal in their first four Group E qualifiers.

A largely Under-23 outfit, they barely got the ball out of their own half in the opening period - mustering just one shot on target.

But the Lions failed to go for the kill, passing sideways instead of building on a two-goal advantage early in the second half.

They had broken the deadlock through their forte in set-pieces in the 16th minute.

Winger Faris Ramli timed his run and flick to perfection to connect with Safuwan Baharudin's header from a long Madhu Mohana throw-in.

To groans and glum looks from a crowd of 9,417, the Lions preferred risky cross-field lumps to short passes to a team-mate in space.

Just before the break, striker Khairul Amri summed up the lacklustre performance, fluffing his penalty before being stretchered off with a hamstring injury moments later. The 30-year-old could be out for up to four weeks, dealing a blow to the LionsXII's Malaysia Cup hopes as well.

Minutes into the second half, his replacement Fazrul Nawaz pounced on a defensive error to curl the ball past stranded Cambodian goalkeeper Um Sereirath.

The Lions' faithful had few reasons to cheer after that, as through balls and incisive runs were sorely lacking in the final third.

More than two years into Stange's reign, the fans are still hard-pressed to define his style of football. The German has repeatedly vowed to deliver slick combination play and flowing football since he was first appointed in 2013.

But before facing Cambodia, Stange insisted it was more important to claim the three points than to expect a lopsided win to boost Singapore's goal difference.

The Lions' seven goals so far pale in comparison with second-placed Syria's 13 strikes.

With 10 points from five games, Singapore share top spot in Group E with Japan and are one point ahead of Syria, but the latter two have each played one game less.

The four best runners-up across the eight groups in the Asian section will advance to the third round of World Cup qualifiers as well as the 2019 Asian Cup Finals.

Last night, Stange gestured animatedly at his troops from the touchline. Instead of surging forward, his backline went missing just past the hour mark.

Running unmarked into the box, Cambodian forward Sos Suhana beat defender Baihakki Khaizan to a cut-back for his country's first goal of the campaign.

The Lions held on for the narrow victory, with fans heard muttering words like "lucky" and "boring" as they made for the exits.

On current evidence, Japan and Syria will not have many sleepless nights before they visit the National Stadium next month.

Following on from Thursday's 1-0 win over Afghanistan, Stange knows his tactical nous will be put to the test in the next two matches. He has boldly targeted a maximum of six points against Japan and Syria. But a repeat of this week's drab display will point only to Singapore being brushed aside by their visitors next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'LIONS LABOUR FOR WIN'. Print Edition | Subscribe