Stange: Difficult to convince top-class teams to play Singapore

Singapore coach Bernd Stange says that a lack of quality opponents is down to a poor Sports Hub pitch, as they prepare to take on friendly opponents Guam on Tuesday evening.

The Lions have been in disappointing form of late, following up their early AFF Suzuki Cup exit in December with a 2-0 friendly loss to Thailand last week.

With the little-known northern Pacific island nation Guam as their next international opponents at home on Tuesday, questions were raised on the failure to deliver top-class international opponents as Stange had promised at the start of his tenure in mid-2013.

“Please don’t finger me [sic] for not trying to bring those teams,” Stange replied, as he revealed how he tried to persuade the likes of Fabio Capello and Carlos Quieroz to bring their national teams to Singapore without success.

“It is difficult to convince the top-class teams to come to Singapore, and especially to play on the artificial turf at Jalan Besar.

“Whether my coaching contacts are willing to come are dependent on the state of the grass pitch at the Singapore Sports Hub. As long as it is not ready, they won’t want to play.”

There were also questions about the lack of fresh faces in the national squad following their Suzuki Cup exit as defending champions, as the Lions prepare for the second round of World Cup qualifying in June.

“There won’t be many changes and we won’t be testing new ones, because now it’s not the time for test, but to confirm our abilities as a team,” the 67-year-old said.

Singapore skipper Hariss Harun agreed it was time for his team to bounce back following the international setbacks of recent months.

“We need to regain our winning mentality, and we will want to get the confidence and mood back with a positive result against Guam,” the Johor Darul Ta’zim midfielder said.

White: Singapore friendly shows Guam progress

The defensive mood from the Singapore camp was in stark contrast with their opponents Guam, as the two teams meet for the first time.

Only 13 places below Singapore in the present world football rankings, the tiny Northeast Asian side are looking to continue their progress under head coach Gary White.

“The Singapore friendly shows how far we have come in the past few years,” said the 40-year-old Southampton native, who is also the technical director of the Guam Football Association.

“When I first took up this job, I told the president we were not ready yet. But now we are, and it gives us an opportunity to try new things against a team of strong calibre.”

Gone are the days of routine double-digit reverses as other East Asian nations have sat up and are taking the Mataos more seriously.

The progress was evident in the East Asian Football Federation Cup qualification last year where they were unbeaten in the preliminary stage against Macau and Mongolia to advance into the next phase.

In the second round, they stunned Chinese Taipei 2-1 and held Hong Kong to a goalless draw, but were given a 1-5 lesson by 2010 World Cup participants North Korea.

The leap of over 30 places in the FIFA rankings over the past couple of years has given White the impetus to bring Guam to the next level.

“Before we can drive the cars, we have to learn to walk,” he said.

“We have a population of just 200,000, so it is challenging to have a strong pool of players.

“But progress has been made as we are in an upward direction at all levels, from the senior national team to the junior training centres.”

The absence of high-profile LA Galaxy player Adolph Joseph DeLaGarza will see other Mataos fighting to stake their claims for a place in the starting eleven.

“We are looking forward to do well against an international team of strong calibre and will try and play football, instead of sitting back and hoping for the best,” White said.

“The absence of DeLaGarza will see other players being tried in his absence as we continue to fine-tune our team in international level at the next level.”

Photo: Football Association of Singapore