Lions seek safety in numbers

Bernd Stange overseeing training yesterday. While the coach is not taking mighty Japan lightly, he also hopes that the Lions can hunt down another memorable result on Thursday.
Bernd Stange overseeing training yesterday. While the coach is not taking mighty Japan lightly, he also hopes that the Lions can hunt down another memorable result on Thursday.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Stange says S'pore must defend against Japan, with players saying everyone must do his part

With Asian footballing giants Japan looming on the horizon, Singapore national teams head coach Bernd Stange is giving little of his game plan away.

When the Lions gathered for their second day of training at Geylang Field ahead of Thursday's World Cup qualifier, the German did not drill his players tactically.

Instead, the forwards had shooting practice while the rest of the squad played small-sided games.

Stange said: "We will prepare them and try to succeed against a better team like Japan.

"We have a match plan and we are working on it. We do not play every year against Japan and we will try to bring the best out of us."

FROM ZERO TO HERO

Japan want revenge for sure. They want to prove that it was an accident (the 0-0 stalemate in June).

BERND STANGE, Singapore coach

But it is likely the Lions will rehearse their defensive strategies in the coming days if they are to repeat a gutsy 0-0 draw earned against the Samurai Blue in June, when they repelled wave after wave of Japanese attacks.

Stange said: "You have to defend. I'm curious by how they (the players) will manage that.

"Japan want revenge for sure. they want to prove that it was an accident (the 0-0 stalemate).

"And we have to prove that we can make another sensation.

"Everyone - my friends and colleagues in Europe - said that the result was a surprise."

The Lions are under no illusions that if they are to get a result against a team bristling with firepower in the shape of Borussia Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa, AC Milan's Keisuke Honda and Leicester City's Shinji Okazaki, they will have to defend as a pack.

Striker Fazrul Nawaz said: "We have to be cautious like in Saitama. We have to be prepared because they will come out all guns blazing.

"We have to give our 100 per cent focus and it's very important not to lose focus in a game against Japan."

Defender Madhu Mohana added: "We all know Japan is a very strong attacking team. Everyone has to do his part to defend. It starts right from the strikers to the backline."

While the draw in Japan five months ago serves as the high point in the Lions' Group E campaign, utility player Hafiz Sujad is setting the bar even higher by targeting a shock win.

"Japan are a world-class team, (they are) very strong and experienced. But if we just want a draw, then it's not good enough."

Singapore are third in the five-team group with 10 points from five games, two points behind leaders Syria.

They are level on points with Japan though Vahid Halilhodzic's men have a game in hand.

As the 2018 World Cup qualifiers also double up as Asian Cup qualifiers, the winners of the eight Asian qualifying groups, together with the four best runners-up, will also advance to the 2019 Asian Cup.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Lions seek safety in numbers'. Print Edition | Subscribe