German coach Bernd Stange has been blamed by players for Syria’s poor form. Picture: AFP
German coach Bernd Stange has been blamed by players for Syria’s poor form. Picture: AFP

Syria set to bring Asian Cup fight to Socceroos

Syria defender Ahmad Al Salih has "100 per cent" blamed sacked coach Bernd Stange for the country's poor Asian Cup results.

And he warned the Socceroos they'll be dealing with a vastly improved opponent under returned manager Fajr Ibrahim when the two Group B teams put it all on the line on Tuesday night.

Fifteen months after blazing the brink of World Cup qualification, Syria have stuttered through a forgettable start to the continent's most prestigious international tournament, held to a scoreless draw by a 10-man Palestine and accounted for 2-0 by Jordan.

The second result tipped the Syrian FA over the edge, and the governing body unceremoniously sacked Stange almost on the spot.

Al Salih was less than complimentary about the 70-year-old German, who coached the Glory between 1998 and 2000, accusing him of not understanding the players nor getting the best out of them.

"One-hundred per cent I would blame the previous head coach who did not have the right plan for us and the results (were) as you see now," Al Salih said.

"As soon as Fajr arrived at the hotel, we know his tactics and his plans. We all like him. I desired previously to have him as our head coach, but as we have him now, this is good for us.

"It was easy to communicate with him because we know him very well previously. I think 90 per cent of losing the previous matches was the previous head coach."

Initial reports had named Ayman Hakeem as Stange's successor, a role he held when the war-ravaged nation continued to defy global expectations all the way to a narrow play-off loss to Australia in October 2017.

But Al Salih said the players had lobbied to bring in another ex-manager in Ibrahim for the remainder of the tournament.

"We are going to play with high spirits and according to the previous performances in World Cup qualifying," he said.

"We have a new head coach, a big coach, a big name at training. Previously we were asking to give him this responsibility and thank God he will be with us in the last match.

"With the high spirit of the players, I'm sure our image will be completely different from the past two matches."

The Socceroos must deal with a sold-out hostile pro-Syrian crowd at Al Ain's Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, where they need at least a point to ensure progression without relying on other results.

Syria, on the other hand, need a win and will likely throw the kitchen sink at the defending champions.

Ibrahim, who said he had coached most of the players since they were juniors, revealed captain Omar Al-Somah had made the "magnificent" gesture of handing over his armband so he could give it to his chosen player, though he declined to say who that was.

The Socceroos will need to be on the look out for a revitalised Syria operating under a different coach. Picture: Toby Zerna
The Socceroos will need to be on the look out for a revitalised Syria operating under a different coach. Picture: Toby Zerna

And while he wasn't keen on the revenge-against-Australia narrative, he said Syria were "determined to win the match".

"In the football world there is nothing new in terms of tactics, it is all about the mental and psychological readiness," Ibrahim said.

"We enjoyed a high level of focus and concentration and this is why we were doing well at that time. This is what we are focusing on now, to regain the past atmosphere.

"Everybody observed that we were missing the psychological concentration and the mental readiness.

"The Australian team, whether they have the old or new stars, this team is very big. They have a unique school of playing, high-level skilled players and a very prestigious association.

"Add to that the type of players and professionalism they enjoy, this is why Australia is always playing at the top level and are always at the World Cup. But this does not mean they will not lose … and we are focusing on this to achieve a positive result."