Football: Izwan heading to Japan for trials

Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud saving a shot during the match between Singapore and Japan in the Group E World Cup Qualifier.
Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud saving a shot during the match between Singapore and Japan in the Group E World Cup Qualifier. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud has moved a step closer to becoming the first Singaporean footballer to play in Japan's top leagues.

The LionsXII captain confirmed to The Straits Times that he will be leaving tomorrow for trials with second-tier outfit Matsumoto Yamaga.

The club, based in Nagano prefecture, were promoted to the 18-team J-League last season, only to be relegated after finishing 16th this year.

However, they have maintained a keen interest in Izwan ever since his stellar 18-save outing earned Singapore a shock 0-0 away draw against Japan in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in June in Saitama.

The 25-year-old informed the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) yesterday of his decision to take up Yamaga's longstanding offer of a trial.

This comes after the LionsXII were knocked out of the Malaysia Cup in the quarter-finals by Pahang on Saturday, which also marked the end of their four-year sojourn in Malaysian domestic football.

"If we had qualified for the semis, I wouldn't go to Japan," said Izwan, who has impressed with his handling and command of his penalty area for club and country this season.

"Now that we are no longer involved in Malaysian football, I have to decide what's best for my future, and playing overseas has always been a dream of mine.

"My best-ever performance was in Japan, so maybe it's a lucky country for me to further my career."

Following his stunning display in Saitama in June, Yamaga's vice-president Yoshiyuki Kato had openly expressed admiration for the Singapore No. 1, noting that he "certainly has enough ability to play in the J-League and we would like to see him in practice".

As part of a tie-up with Epson Singapore, the FAS had sent three national Under-14 players on a training stint with Yamaga in June.

It is believed that Yamaga are also interested in LionsXII midfielder Safuwan Baharudin but, as of yesterday, he has not decided whether to go for a trial.

Decembers are typically set aside for Japanese teams to test out prospective signings in training matches.

Each club can have up to five foreigners and can field four at a time.

If Yamaga ultimately do not offer Izwan a contract, he is open to a move to Malaysia or Thailand, although he refuted reports of an offer already on the table from Thai Premier League outfit Chonburi.

He said: "I'm going to Japan to give my best and show that a Singaporean can make it there.

"This is not just about me. I hope more of my team-mates will expose themselves to playing overseas to develop their game."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2015, with the headline 'Izwan heads for trials with Japanese second-tier side'. Print Edition | Subscribe