The Republic’s national head coach Bernd Stange has claimed it is very, very difficult to attract big teams to play them as long as the National Stadium’s pitch is not ready.
However, his controversial comments have been refuted by the 55,000-seater arena’s operators SportsHub Pte Ltd, which reiterated that the issue is being addressed, and the later stages of June’s SEA Games football tournament and July’s Barclays Asia Trophy, both to be held there, will show the playing surface to be up to the mark.
Stange’s remarks came when he was asked at yesterday’s pre-match press conference for Singapore’s friendly against Guam at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight why the Lions, who are 153rd in FIFA’s world rankings, are playing a world No 167 side instead of a higher-ranked team that could provide a stiffer contest.
“It’s very, very difficult to convince top-class teams to play at Jalan Besar Stadium,” said Stange, referring to the venue’s artificial turf.
“All my promises I gave to bring teams over with my personal contacts to speak with (Iran coach Carlos) Queiroz, with (Russia coach) Fabio Capello and others depend on a ready Sports Hub.
“Unfortunately, a lot of teams refuse to play Singapore on the artificial pitch. Even Japan refused to make training sessions here (at the Jalan Besar Stadium) before they played Brazil (at the National Stadium last year) … As long as the (National Stadium’s pitch at the) Sports Hub is not ready, we cannot attract big teams. I did everything, but it’s difficult to convince teams to play there.”
The National Stadium’s Desso GrassMaster pitch — a mixture of natural grass woven onto synthetic fibres — cut up badly during Brazil’s match with Japan in October last year, prompting a re-scheduling of events to allow the pitch to recover for the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in November.
In December, SportsHub Pte Ltd, which operates the 55,000-seater National Stadium, announced a lay-and-play turf would be used for this June’s SEA Games to ensure an optimal playing surface.
In response to Stange’s comments, SportsHub Pte Ltd’s senior director (corporate communications and stakeholder management) Jose Raymond said about the lay-and-play pitch: “Work has been ongoing and has been progressing very well, and will be implemented in time for the SEA Games in June.
“The Barclays Asia Trophy, which will be held for the first time in Singapore, will involve top English Premiership sides Arsenal, Everton and Stoke City at the National Stadium in July. We look forward to having these world-class teams play at the National Stadium.
“FIFA dates have been confirmed for the next three years till 2017. We have been engaging the Football Association of Singapore and we look forward to hearing their plans, and working with them to bring world-class international football teams to the National Stadium for the benefit of our football fans.”
Singapore head into their first meeting with Guam on the back of last week’s 2-0 loss to Thailand, and a win will ease some pressure following their disappointing group stage exit at last November’s Suzuki Cup.
Guam are without Los Angeles Galaxy defender Adolph Joseph DeLaGarza, but head coach Gary White insists they are not here to make up the numbers.
“In the past two-and-half years, we’ve installed a belief to play football, rather than just sit back and hope for the best and keep the scores the low,” he said.
Singapore will be without centre-back Afiq Yunos, who is out for three months with a knee injury, while goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, defenders Baihakki Khaizan and Madhu Mohana, and attacking midfielder Shahril Ishak remain doubtful.
Nonetheless, Stange insisted he will field his strongest available line-up. “It’s a home game, we are responsible for our fans,” he said. “Hopefully we have fans to see this match against a team that is better than everyone believes.”
Singapore midfielder Hariss Harun added: “Lapses in our focus cost us the two goals (against Thailand last week). We also need to get into positions to score goals. We get chances but don’t put them away.”