Dorothea Stange dared to dream. Her husband had just quit his umpteenth job. His profession had seen them live in seven countries – including under grave danger in war-torn Iraq. He was approaching retirement age in their native Germany. They were financially comfortable. Surely now was the time to fulfil a long-time promise and retire to Perth?
She didn’t have long to fantasise about the astonishing scenery along Sunset Coast, the city’s stunning skyline, Swan Valley’s charming wine cruises, the Zig Zag Cultural Centre or Kings Park’s panoramic views. Her veteran partner was still a big kid who wasn’t ready to give up playing with his favourite toy. Singapore soon became the fifth national team he took charge of after East Germany, Oman, Iraq and Belarus, whom he elevated to a personal best position on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
“You'll never know for sure the moment when I will sit in my garden, trim away weeds and smell the roses,” Bernd Stange told FIFA.com. “But right now I can’t live without football. I love this sport too much to detach myself away from it.”
You'll never know for sure the moment when I will sit in my garden, trim away weeds and smell the roses. But right now I can’t live without football.
Upon assuming the Singapore reins in May 2013, Stange prioritised building for the future over instant results, integrating multiple teenagers into the squad. That may have handicapped the Lions at the 2014 AFF Championship, where they entered as the defending champions and exited in the group stage, but it is aiding them in the race to Russia. In the second round of Asian qualifying for the 21st FIFA World Cup™, Singapore sit third in Group E, level on points with second-placed continental colossus Japan, whom they held to a goalless draw in Saitama, and two points shy of Syria. Favourably, however, Singapore will have home advantage when they face the two teams above them on 12 and 17 November.
“For us, every point is important, whether we are playing giants such as Japan or other teams in the group,” Stange said. “We were a little lucky to clinch three points against Afghanistan last month but that’s football – you lose some and you win some. We take every game seriously and will prepare to the best of our abilities regardless of the strength of the opponents.
“Our young players have to believe that they are capable of creating a sensation. Look at our match against Japan at the Saitama Stadium – we fought hard and it ended in a draw. Even Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho pointed out that we ought to be proud of that result!
“Football is so beautiful because underdogs are able to achieve good results against giants. Regardless of what others say about our team, there’s always a chance. If you are able to take the pressure away from the team, sensations can happen. I have confidence in this young team and I will continue to work with my assistant coaches to prepare them for the two tough matches.”
While Stange believes Singapore can make the third round, he is sober when it comes to their chances of seizing one of Asia’s four automatic tickets to Russia 2018. “Realistically, our target is to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2019. We are in a good position now and if we continue to work hard, our boys can make history because Singapore has never qualified for the Asian Cup. The only time we played at the Asian Cup was in 1984, when Singapore hosted the competition.
“We are the joint-record holders of the Asean championship. However, want to improve further and take on top Asian teams. Therefore it is important that we qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup.
“At the same time, we need to continue to bring in young talents into the national team. They will be the future of football in this beautiful country. Over the past two-and-a-half years, we have handed international debuts to more than 20 players and today, the majority of them are key players in the national team. With senior players such as captain Shahril Ishak and vice-captain Hariss Harun leading a young squad with an average age of 25, we have a good base for the future.
“We have also been learning the international style of football, which includes possession-based, fast counter-attacks, and building up play from the goalkeeper. It is a long process but we are gradually moving from a long-ball style of football to one where our goalkeeper will build up play from the back with quick, passing football. In addition, our youth teams are also beginning to play this style of passing football.
“I’ve been here for the past two-and-a-half years and it’s been a fantastic experience. However, as I said at my first press conference in May 2013 – I can’t lift a rock with one finger. Based on experience, a national team will have a cycle and it takes three to five years to build a very strong national team.”
Sorry, Dorothea, but it doesn’t sound like your husband is retiring to Perth anytime soon.