Stange empathises with Syria situation

Having coached Iraq and East Germany under similarly difficult times, the Singapore coach can understand what his opponents are going through ahead of their Asian Cup qualifier
Mention Syria, and the word "war" immediately comes to the mind for most people. A civil war has raged on since March 2011, where rebel forces have been fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

That has resulted in 120,00 dead as of September this year, with millions more displaced, according to the United Nations. The Syrian government is also accused of severe human rights violations and using chemical weapons on its own people.

Having coached Iraq and East Germany under similarly troubled times, it is little wonder Singapore coach Bernd Stange can empathise with his opponents' plight ahead of their 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifying clash tonight.

"There was nothing left, [not] even soccer balls, no equipment; it was very difficult and we couldn’t even play any matches in Iraq," he recalled at the pre-match press conference yesterday afternoon.

But the German also remembers that Iraq had one of their most successful periods during that time, qualifying for the 2004 Asian Cup and finishing fourth at the Olympics that same year, before going on to win the 2007 Asian Cup. As such, Stange cautions against taking such teams lightly.

"The players were very, very motivated to play for their country, to show the people who suffer at home under difficult circumstances that we are here, we want to deliver something, and it was very dangerous to play against Iraq," he explained.

"And that’s why it’s very dangerous to play against Syria. Their team is completely fit. We have analysed their last match against Jordan (a 1-1 draw) and we saw how strong this team is [to be] able to deliver a good performance.

"It was international standard to play with Jordan, who are now in the play-off qualification for the [2014] World Cup. They can be very very proud what they have achieved in Syria."

Syria coach Anas Makhlouf admitted that preparations have been tough, with the team having to play all their games outside of the country, but vowed they would do their best for their people.

"Everyone know about our situation, but we [will] try to do something for our people over there to help them to be in a good situation," he said.

"Syrian people love football and they looking forward to a good team, and that’s why we have to do this for them.

"It’s difficult for us because we play most of our matches, we play outside and even for home games, we play in Tehran [in Iraq]. It’s very difficult for us because we used to play with our people, and they make us [feel] comfort[able] to play more (better)."

Syria captain Sanhareb Maliki also revealed that the strong support from home keeps them going and fuels their desire to do well.

"A lot of fans are going to give us support because everybody loves football and they follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and try to send us messages to encourage our team because we can’t play at home and it’s difficult for them to come to Tehran," he said.

"And for this kind of people we need to give everything and we will fight. We don’t think it will be easy to play against Singapore. We need to be respectful and we concentrate on the game and take it seriously."

And what would qualification mean?

"It would bring happiness to the people on (during) this tragic period for us," Mailki responded simply.