Football: Singapore holds Japan to 0-0 draw in World Cup qualifier at Saitama

Singapore's Ambassador to Japan Chin Siat Yoon (holding goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud's jersey) and his wife Wang Lee Moi (seated)  with the Lions in their dressing room after the 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw with Japan. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHIN SI
Singapore's Ambassador to Japan Chin Siat Yoon (holding goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud's jersey) and his wife Wang Lee Moi (seated)  with the Lions in their dressing room after the 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw with Japan. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHIN SIAT YOON
Japan's Takashi Usami fighting for the ball with Singapore's Madhu Mohana (centre) and Nazrul Nazari. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's Takashi Usami fighting for the ball with Singapore's Madhu Mohana (centre) and Nazrul Nazari. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's Takashi Usami and Keisuke Honda fighting for the ball against Singapore's Hariss Harun. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's Takashi Usami and Keisuke Honda fighting for the ball against Singapore's Hariss Harun. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's Tomoaki Makino (centre) with teammate Yuya Osako after missing a shot against Singapore. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Japan's Tomoaki Makino (centre) with teammate Yuya Osako after missing a shot against Singapore. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud (right) saving a shot from Japan's Shinji Okazaki in Saitama on June 16, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS  
Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud (right) saving a shot from Japan's Shinji Okazaki in Saitama on June 16, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS  

SAITAMA, JAPAN - In a shock result, Singapore have held Asian giants Japan to a 0-0 draw in 2018 World Cup qualifers, earning a precious away point.

Coming on the back of a 4-0 victory over Cambodia in their Group E opening match last Thursday, few gave the Lions, ranked 154 in the world, a chance against Japan (world ranking 52). But a Man of the Match performance by goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud almost single-handedly kept Singapore in the match, with the custodian making 18 saves.

Despite being egged on by a boisterous crowd at the Saitama Stadium, the Japanese were unable to find a way past the inspired Izwan. And when the shot-stopper was finally beaten by a ferocious Keisuke Honda free-kick in the 72nd minute, the upright came to Singapore's rescue.

The draw means that Singapore has now collected four points from their opening two matches in Group E and now top their group ahead of Syria, Japan, Cambodia and Afghanistan, who have all played one match each.

twtoh@sph.com.sg