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Stange: Syria have what it takes

Kuala Lumpur: Syria lured Bernd Stange out of retirement to take the helm of their squad for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, but the veteran German coach is confident the side that narrowly missed out on a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia can succeed no matter who is sitting on the sidelines.

Stange’s team have been drawn to face Australia – who ended Syria’s hopes of a debut World Cup appearance – Palestine and Jordan in Group B of the 2019 edition of the Continental showpiece, with the Syrians kicking off their campaign against the Palestinians in Sharjah on January 6.

And as they seek to build on the performances that took the country into the play-off phase of qualifying for Russia 2018, Stange stresses the desire to succeed comes from within the playing group.

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“They do it alone, they don’t need a coach,” said the German. “You can’t teach them confidence, confidence comes with results. Confidence comes from signing great contracts. Confidence comes from being a millionaire with Al Ahli or at other clubs.

“I was in Syria when I was coach of Singapore and they were at a low level because of the situation, but what they’ve done over the last three years by going and playing abroad for big clubs in West Asia is amazing.

“It comes from them alone, it’s not a matter of coaching.”

Syria have never advanced beyond the group phase of the AFC Asian Cup, having narrowly missed out on a place in the quarter-finals in 1996 when the tournament was last held in the United Arab Emirates.

And while Stange is not so bold as to predict that his players, led by star striker Omar Al Somah (pictured below), will raise the new AFC Asian Cup trophy above their heads in Abu Dhabi on February 1, he is certain the Syrians will progress to the knockout rounds.

“I will never say that we will win the Asian Cup 2019 in the UAE,” he said. “What we want is to make the next stage, to leave this group.

“It’s a tough group because you have Australia and you have two derbies: don’t forget Palestine, don’t forget Jordan. These are derbies, the players know each other for many, many years and from many friendly matches and that’s why it’s a difficult task.

“We won’t underestimate any team. We will be very focused. We will have perfect preparations. I'm quite confident we can be successful.”

To do so, however, Stange knows that he needs to keep his players’ emotions in check. Facing off against near-neighbours Jordan and Palestine will be a challenge, while the meeting with Australia will bring back memories of the 3-2 aggregate defeat at the hands of the Socceroos in the World Cup play-off in October 2017.

“The players are very emotional in this part of the world and you have to educate them and you have to make them focused on the game and not on refereeing decisions or other things,” said Stange, who previously also worked with Oman and Iraq.

“That’s why I will try to do my job and we will prepare the team with everything I’ve learned in Iraq and other countries to keep them under control and to be prepared. We have to be on top of everything by January 5.”

The on-going situation in Syria has added to the difficulties witnessed by Stange, who has sought to use his experience of working in Iraq under similar circumstances as he prepares for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.

“All the time there is other news. That’s why you have to all the time be focused on your job.

“Even after the 1-1 draw in Malaysia against Australia and then the 2-1 loss in the second leg, all the people in Damascus were smiling and cheering because, even if they failed, they are so proud of their team.

“Now is the next chance for us to make the people happy with good performances in the Asian Cup.”

Photos: AFP

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