By Kenneth Tan
Jalan Besar Stadium, Wednesday, August 14, 2013 – There was to be no perfect ending for new gaffer Bernd Stange’s first competitive match in charge as his Singapore side fell 0–2 to visitors Oman in the second group game of their 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
Two goals conceded in the first half ultimately proved to be the downfall for the Lions in front of 5,849 fans.
There were a couple of notable inclusions in Stange’s starting 11 – Hafiz Sujad got the nod over Zulfadli Zainal Abidin to start at leftback, while Shahfiq Ghani started on the left flank in the absence of Khairul Amri. Meanwhile captain Shahril Ishak started upfront with Qiu Li supporting behind.
The opening period was a positive one for the home side as the players came out trying to implement Stange’s philosophy of possession football.
Shahfiq had the first chance of the night on 10 minutes after Isa Halim earned the ball off an Omani player, but he lashed wide from long range. However the Omanis struck first blood just five minutes later.
Some good build-up in midfield created space for Qasim Said who skinned Safuwan Baharudin before drilling a superb low finish past the stranded Izwan Mahbud.
The Singaporeans continued their patient build-up play and had most of the possession, but they were unable to penetrate the visitors’ defence. Shahril was an isolated figure upfront, while Qiu constantly tried to drop deep to receive the ball. The latter had a superb opportunity to draw level on the half-hour mark after Shahril was brought down at the edge of the area, however he curled the resulting deadball just wide of the post.
Right before the first half ended, disaster struck again for the Lions.
From an innocuous throw-in from the left, their defence backed off as Eid Al-Farsi took the opportunity to lash a superb low 30-yard shot beyond the despairing dive of Izwan.
Shahfiq could have pulled one back straight after, but he was unable to keep his freekick below the bar.
Stange rallied the boys at half time to muster a response but the impact was minimal. Izwan had to stay alert in goal to deny a couple of one-on-ones from the visitors with his side tiring fast.
The young duo of Adam Swandi and Anumanthan Mohan Kumar was duly introduced to inject more speed and urgency in attack, but the experienced Omanis had the know-how of closing a game.
A last-gasp freekick by Shahfiq was superbly held by Oman keeper Faiyz Al Rusheidi and the final whistle soon went off to signal a disappointing night for the players and fans alike.
It was not a pretty job, but the ultimate task was achieved as Oman coach Paul Le Guen wore a look of satisfaction at the post-match press conference.
“We did the job of winning tonight,” he said. “Before the game, I was a little worried because Singapore has a good new coach in charge and we were playing on an artificial pitch. It was indeed a difficult game and I thank the players for their efforts tonight. Our aim is to qualify for the Asian Cup and this is a very important win for us.”
It was a ‘strange’ game according to the former Lyon coach as he felt his side played better in the half which they did not score.
“We were very average in the first half,” mused Le Guen. “We lost many balls in midfield, but we were very efficient – we had only three to four chances which we scored twice from. That was important in terms of building our confidence. In the second half we played much better, we controlled the tempo of the game but we didn’t manage to score.”
Meanwhile Singapore coach Bernd Stange preferred to focus on the positives despite the less-than-ideal result.
“I’m a positive coach tonight even though we lost,” he said. “We didn’t achieve the result we wanted, but I have a clearer picture of the team after this match. The defeat is not as bad as it seems. We tried to dominate the possession right from the start; we played the ball for long periods in our own half, it was just that we could not switch on the decisive pass at the right moment.”
The second goal conceded right before half time was the killer blow according to the German.
“The team was very disappointed at half time due to that,” he shared. “I tried to lift them up and also changed a couple of players who were physically tired. They tried everything they could, but in the end we didn’t have the physical power to create chances to score.”
In conclusion, the gaffer was confident that his side will improve in the upcoming matches.
“We have to keep our heads up after tonight,” he said. “It takes at least half a year to build up proper tactics, and the next step is to play more aggressive and forward-thinking football. It’s good that we have matches against the likes of China, Syria and Jordan coming up which can help us gauge our progress.”
Singapore will take on Syria in their next Group A game on Tuesday, 15 October at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
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