Lions aim for goals and Asian Cup qualification
Stange's men know they need a handsome win to boost hopes of Asian Cup qualification
SINGAPORE v AFGHANISTAN
(Tomorrow, 8pm, National Stadium)
Bidding to qualify automatically for the 2019 Asian Cup, Singapore will hunt for goals tomorrow against Afghanistan at the National Stadium.
With giants Japan also in Group E of the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers, national football coach Bernd Stange says top spot is almost certainly out of reach, but he believes his Lions can finish second and qualify for the continental competition as one of the top four runners-up from the eight groups.
Which means goal difference could prove decisive at the end of this qualifying round.
While his team have not managed to score in their last three games against Japan, Qatar (friendly) and Syria, Stange backs his four strikers - Khairul Amri, Fazrul Nawaz, Khairul Nizam and Sahil Suhaimi - to come good, first for Afghanistan and then the Cambodia clash next Tuesday.
"I have been going around and these are the best strikers we have found," said the 67-year-old German, who devoted a significant portion of yesterday's 90-minute training session at the National Stadium on finishing drills, off crosses from the flanks.
"We need players who have proven they can score goals and these strikers have shown they can do it in the Malaysian Super League and the S.League."
Much will depend on Singapore's strikers, especially with star midfielders Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin missing tomorrow through suspension.
Capped more than 100 times by Singapore and scorer of 29 international goals, which include efforts in three AFF Championship finals, 30-year-old Amri has been the chief central striker and has almost a goal every other game under Stange, including four this year.
Amri's half-brother Nizam may still be searching for his first international goal after 14 caps, but the 24-year-old is having his most fruitful season with the LionsXII with five goals in all competitions.
Clubmate Sahil is also on the goal trail, and is currently the only LionsXII striker to score in this season's Malaysian Super League, FA Cup and Malaysia Cup, with six goals in total.
The 23-year-old grabbed his first international goal in the 2-1 friendly win over Papua New Guinea last year.
The one who has outscored them all for both club and country is Warriors FC striker Fazrul Nawaz, who has 14 goals in the S.League and three for Singapore this year.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for the 30-year-old, who almost quit football after a move to Malaysian Premier League side Sabah soured and he had to return home.
He told The New Paper: "To be honest, after all the trouble I had pre-season, I didn't expect to be scoring so many goals.
"But, thank God, I have been working hard and it's been paying off. I'm really happy with how this season has turned out and I will continue fighting on."
Deployed as a centre forward for his club, Fazrul is currently the S.League's joint top-scorer with Balestier Khalsa's Miroslav Kristic and Brunei DPMM's Rafael Ramazotti, and is on course to finish the season as the first Singapore-born striker to head the hit list.
However, because of his impressive work rate, Fazrul has been regularly fielded as a winger for his country, which explains his poor strike rate of just eight goals in 75 international appearances.
He said: "My preferred position is striker. I know I don't have that many international goals, but I've been played mostly on the flanks for the national team. I try my best and I already have three goals this year.
"Over the years, we've had very good strikers like Indra (Sahdan Daud), (Noh) Alam Shah and (Aleksandar) Duric, and now (Khairul) Amri, so I have had to play mostly on the wing, especially if the coach plays only one striker.
"But with my form in the S.League, I'm feeling good and sharp and I'm doing my best to help convince coach to give me the striker's role.
"These are two important home games for us, so the onus is on us to attack.
"We have to score goals, and we have to win.
"I hope I can help contribute as a striker."
While Stange refused to give anything away on team selection - he will decide only at the last minute - he praised Fazrul's recent performances and intimated that he will play a big part in these two games.
"Fazrul did a good defensive job against Japan and Syria and I depend on such players," said Stange.
"The difference is not only to score in the S.League.
"You have to score at the international level where the defenders are better, the teams are better organised.
"He can deliver. He did a good job defending in Japan, he played a good game against Cambodia and he did a good job against Syria, and that's why I depend on such an experienced player.
"It will be a difficult task against Afghanistan.
"I expect our opponents to be very compact and defensive after losing two matches 6-0 (against Syria and Japan).
"Of course, we want to score goals and win but we have to be patient and we shouldn't be nervous even if we don't get a quick goal.
"What is most important is the end result."
A special night for Amri
Before the Singapore-Afghanistan kick-off tomorrow, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will honour the latest member of the country's Centurion Club - LionsXII striker Khairul Amri.
The 30-year-old crossed the 100-cap mark this year and has scored 29 international goals, including efforts in three AFF Championship finals in 2005, 2007 and 2012.
To mark his achievement and to acknowledge his commitment and contribution to Singapore football, FAS and Nike will be presenting Amri with a specially customised pair of golden boots at the National Stadium.
Amri is the 12th Singapore footballer to win 100 caps or more. Current centurions include national captain Shahril Ishak and defender Baihakki Khaizan.
CENTURION: Khairul Amri will be presented with this "Golden Boot" ( above ) for reaching 100 caps. - PHOTO: COURTESY OF FAS
CENTURION: Khairul Amri (above) will be presented with this "Golden Boot" for reaching 100 caps. - PHOTO: COURTESY OF FAS
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now