NERVOUS SINGAPORE DEFEATS MYANMAR IN UNCONVINCING 2-1 VICTORY

SINGAPORE 2
<Photo Credits: Leo Shengwei>

(Shahril Ishak 27, Fazrul Nawaz 86)
MYANMAR 1
(Suam Lam Mang 65)

So after almost three years, Bernd Stange is stepping down as the national football coach, as The New Paper reported earlier this month. But based on his last home match, a 2-1 win over Myanmar in an international friendly at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, the 68-year-old German has definitely failed in what he set out to do when he was first appointed in May 2013.

First, let's set the scene right. This is a home match, against the world No. 154 team who just are six places behind Singapore in the Fifa rankings, which in itself represents a lack of improvement for the team in red. And the Lions should have lost.

Backed by a vociferous Myanmarese majority in the 5,280-strong crowd, the visitors launched wave after wave of attacks, forcing Hassan Sunny into four good saves - the pick of the bunch was a full-length dive to deny Kyaw Ko Ko's free-kick - with just 15 minutes gone. But even Hassan was reduced to thumping long balls from goal kicks, none of the build-up from the back, and few effective displays of combination football.

What happened to the short-passing football Stange promised? Speaking about Hassan, he was one of four players aged 30 or older, along with skipper Shahril Ishak, striker Fazrul Nawaz and full back Juma'at Jantan, who featured for Singapore last night. And they all did much better than their younger colleagues, bar the classy Hariss Harun. Sure, Khairul Nizam did all the hard work to chase a lost cause and successfully closed down Myanmar goalkeeper Kyaw Zin Phyo for Shahril's 27th-minute opener, but he was otherwise a headless chicken.

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It was Shahril and later Fazrul, in the 86th minute with the volleyed winner off Yasir Hanapi's cross, who showed the composure and technique to finish, which the young guns lack. What happened to the new generation whom Stange gave so many opportunities to?

Full back Al-Qaasimy Rahman was a bundle of nerves, centre back Zulfahmi Arifin was his usual lumbering self, forward Sahil Suhaimi was too selfish, utility man Safuwan Baharudin was a pale shadow of the impressive A-League player he was just last year, and playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman failed to make any play.

The average age of the 15 Myanmar players who took to the field was 21.5 and if not for some dodgy defending and some failed finishing, other than Suam Lam Mang's lobbed 65th-minute equaliser, they would have easily won a match they dominated.

Singapore may have successfully navigated their way into the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers after Japan beat Afghanistan 5-0, but they sure don't look convincing ahead of the Suzuki Cup later this year.

Myanmar coach Gerd Zeise said: "Sometimes, football is not so fair, Singapore had two-and-a-half chances in the second half, and they scored once. It was a lucky win for Singapore, but they also deserved it because they used their chances, and we didn't.

"I'm not surprised we dominated the game. I know this team, and we train to act, not to react. We have a young team, and you can see that we are in a good way."
To be fair, Stange cannot be faulted for lack of trying, only for his refusal to adapt to the Lions' obvious technical limitations. In any case, he has accepted responsibility and will not outstay his welcome.

"If there's no desire to succeed in professional football, there will be stagnation," said Stange. "Such a rich and proud country should be able to deliver top-class professional football, and there are a lot of things to change. You have to find an answer to succeed.

"There is a lot to do for Singapore football, I promise I gave my best in three years. I made mistakes, players made mistakes, but I gave my best every single day for your football." But what about the players, especially the younger ones? Can they be coaxed by the next national coach to play above the current standard? Are they even good enough? Only time will tell.

SINGAPORE: Hassan Sunny, Juma'at Jantan (Al-Qaasimy Rahman 61), Afiq Yunos, Zulfahmi Arifin, Shakir Hamzah (Gabriel Quak 68), Sahil Suhaimi (Fazrul Nawaz 46), Safuwan Baharudin (Yasir Hanapi 65), Hariss Harun, Hafiz Sujad, Shahril Ishak (Shahdan Sulaiman 66), Khairul Nizam (Christopher van Huizen 75)

MYANMAR: Kyaw Zin Phyo, Myo Ko Tun, Aung Zaw, Zaw Min Tun, Nanda Kyaw (Hein Thiha Zaw 46), Mg Mg Lwin (Suan Lam Mang 46, Than Paing 82), Ye Ko Oo (Hlaing Bo Bo 76), Yan Aung Kyaw, Kyi Lin, Aung Thu, Kyaw Ko Ko

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