Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud praised for one-man show in Japan draw

Izwan after the 0-0 draw against Japan in Saitama. He made 18 saves in total.
Izwan after the 0-0 draw against Japan in Saitama. He made 18 saves in total.PHOTO: AFP

SAITAMA - It's fair to say that without Izwan Mahbud as goalkeeper on Tuesday (June 16) night, the Lions would have been at the end of a real thrashing in their World Cup qualifier against star-studded Japan.

Instead, the Singapore national team were celebrating a - in Izwan's own words - "miraculous" 0-0 draw on the Blue Samurai's home turf.

The 24-year-old custodian, who made his Lions debut in 2011, was a colossus between the sticks, pulling off a string of outstanding saves in the first half.

But what followed in the second would not have looked out of place in the highlight reels of top class goalkeepers like Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois or Manchester United's David de Gea.

Izwan first went to ground brilliantly to keep out a glancing header from striker Shinji Okazaki in the 55th minute, before scrambling to his left to claw the ball off the line.

Thirteen minutes later, he produced, arguably, the save of the match - a stupendous one-handed reflex stop to palm away AC Milan playmaker Keisuke Honda's bullet header off a corner kick.

The reaction of his teammates, and the stunned look on Honda's face, said it all.

In total, the LionsXII goalkeeper, who was also man-of-the-match in the 3-1 Malaysian FA Cup win over Kelantan last month, saved 18 shots on goal.

No surprise then, that he was singled out by Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic. "I also have to praise their goalkeeper (Izwan) who saved six or seven goals. I've never seen a goalkeeper stop that many shots before," he told Football Channel Asia.

The Mainichi Shimbun reported that Izwan, who "commanded his area superbly all night", halted a team that had scored 11 goals in its last three matches.

The Japan Times noted how a full-house of 57,533 at the Saitama Stadium bore witness to an embrarrassing start to the hosts' World Cup qualifying campaign, thanks to Izwan's inspired performance.

And of course, the plaudits and memes flowed online.

mklee@sph.com.sg