Stange’s Singapore reign ends in defeat

Singapore’s outgoing head coach Bernd Stange did not get a victorious farewell as the Lions were defeated 2-1 by Afghanistan at the Takhti Stadium in Tehran, Iran on Tuesday afternoon.  

Goals in each half by Khaibar Amani and Josef Shirdel proved to be the difference between the two sides in the final joint World Cup and Asian Cup Group E qualifier, although Fazrul Nawaz did pull one back for the visitors late on.

Afghanistan were utterly dominant in the first 45 minutes, with the Singapore centre-back pairing of Zulfahmi Arifin and Afiq Yunos forced to work overtime to repel waves after waves of attack.

Left-back Hassan Amin got the first opportunity of the night on 11 minutes when he wriggled clear of Zulfahmi in the area, but was denied by Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny at point-blank range.

Afiq then brought down Norlla Amiri minutes later, with Kanischka Taher curling the resulting free-kick just wide.  

Amani then slammed just wide on 25 minutes after being picked out by a neat cut-back from the right by club teammate Zubayr Amiri.

Their persistence eventually paid off six minutes before half time, with Amani atoning for his earlier miss.

The 29-year-old, who plays in the German fifth-tier with SC Hessen Dreieich, bundled home from two yards out after Afiq had made a mess of his headed clearance from Amiri’s left-wing cross.

Singapore had a chance to level matters just before the break, but Safuwan Baharudin’s 30-yard free kick sailed well over the bar.

Afghanistan continued to pile on the pressure in the second half, with Hassan having to pull off a top-drawer save in the 53 minutes to deny Amiri’s goalbound volley after Faysal Shayesteh’s inswinging corner was half-cleared.

Goalscorer Amani came off due to injury thereafter, with his replacement Omid Popalzay going close as he prodded over, despite having only Hassan to beat.

Stange decided to throw on Khairul Nizam to support the isolated Fazrul in the Lions’ attack for the final 20 minutes, but it was the Afghans who scored next in the 79th minute via super-sub Shirdel.

Just two minutes after his introduction, the 22-year-old found himself at the right place at the right time to slot past Hassan from close range after Taher had intelligently flicked a long ball into his path.

Singapore rallied towards the closing stages and eventually halved the deficit with just three minutes to go.

The tireless Fazrul prodded home from a yard out after Safuwan had nodded on substitute Christopher van Huizen’s inswinging corner.

However, it was too little too late for the Lions as they failed to give the outgoing Stange a good parting gift.

The result did not have any repercussions on the group though, with Singapore already through to the next round of the Asian Cup qualifiers before this game.