Stange praises fans who turned up
Lions coach Stange cites two winners: national team and fans who turned up
Over 45,000 fans thronged to the National Stadium to watch the national football team get dumped out of the AFF Suzuki Cup by arch-rivals Malaysia after conceding two injury-time goals on Nov 29 last year.
Last night, in the Lions' first game at their "spiritual home" since the Suzuki Cup debacle, only 7,128 spectators turned up.
Seeing the rows of empty seats in the 55,000-capacity facility would not have instilled Bernd Stange's men with much confidence, and this was reflected in their below-par performance.
And with a fortuitous 1-0 win over Afghanistan, the Lions boosted their chances of qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time ever.
Stange made it a point to pay tribute to the fans who did turn up.
"Tonight, there were two winners," said the German.
"First of all, our national team, who go to seven points with a home game ahead (against Cambodia on Tuesday).
"And secondly, our fans, because they never let us down even during many periods we lacked quality in our football.
"They pushed us and were very, very helpful so we could achieve a very, very lucky 1-0 win against a strong Afghanistan team."
Even though the four-figure attendance was low by any standards, it was much better than turnouts at recent Lions' games in Singapore.
A friendly against Guam at the 7,000-seater Jalan Besar Stadium in March, for example, drew just 1,864 fans.
And in the last international qualifying match played here, only 2,371 watched as Singapore went down 3-1 to Jordan in February 2014 at Jalan Besar, in a qualifier for the 2015 Asian Cup.
So fans who turned up last night were certainly fanatical.
And critical too, for they made their frustrations known everytime an attacking Lions move broke down.
Said 27-year-old civil servant Faizal Kamal: "The Lions were lucky to score the goal and it seemed they could rely on only set-pieces.
"I believe they will perform better against Cambodia on Tuesday, so I will be supporting them again for sure.
"I was disappointed to see so many empty seats, but I guess that could be partly due to the ticket price."
Tickets for each of the matches against Afghanistan and Cambodia are priced at $38 for Cat 1 and $28 for Cat 2.
"I think it's quite normal to see this number of fans for a qualifier like this," said 38-year-old Melvin Wong, who is self-employed.
"Singaporeans tend to come out for more high-profile games, like the Suzuki Cup semi-finals, for example, or in competitive matches against Malaysia.
"Going by the way we played, even a point would have been good.
"Personally, I like the fact the team are learning to play effective football.
"A win is always a good feeling, and the fact it takes us a step closer to qualifying for the Asian Cup makes it even sweeter."
Japan back at the top
Japan overtook Syria at the top of Group E in World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying yesterday, overpowering them 3-0 in Muscat.
The goals, all scored in the second half, came from Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Takashi Usami.
Honda broke the deadlock with a 55th-minute penalty, after which Leicester City striker Okazaki made it 2-0 in the 70th minute.
Substitute Takashi Usami then rounded off the goals in the 88th minute .
The win took Japan to 10 points, one more than the Syrians.