Lions repel samurai charge

Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud punching a header from Japan’s Yuya Osako (No. 18) above the bar in Saitama in front of a crowd of 57,533.
Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud punching a header from Japan’s Yuya Osako (No. 18) above the bar in Saitama in front of a crowd of 57,533.PHOTO: REUTERS

Izwan saves the day with 18 incredible blocks in stunning draw

Japan 0

Singapore 0

WAVE after wave of attacks from the Samurai Blue came at Singapore yesterday, but try as they could, they simply could not tame the Lions as Singapore's national football team shocked Japan 0-0 in the 2018 World Cup Asian qualifiers.

With pre-match whispers of Singapore being in for a hiding from an opponent who had played in the last five World Cup Finals, it was Japan, who called up all their big guns like Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, who were unable to find the net, with goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud repelling an incredible 18 goal attempts en route to a clean sheet at the Saitama Stadium.

The 24-year-old said: "I could not believe I was playing against top Asian and world stars. I used to watch them on television and suddenly they were beside me in the tunnel.

  • Other results

  • Guam 2 India 1
  • Timor Leste 0 UAE 1
  • Myanmar 0 South Korea 2
  • Bangladesh 1 Tajikistan 1
  • Cambodia 0 Afghanistan 1
  • Chinese Taipei 0 Thailand 2
  • Laos 0 Lebanon 2
  • Malaysia 0 Palestine 6
  •  

"I knew if I just tried to save the ball when possible, we could get a clean sheet and a draw."

The custodian was busy right from the first whistle, having to deal with a long-range effort from Honda. And in the 11th minute, the LionsXII shot-stopper was at his spectacular best when he tipped Kagawa's effort wide at full stretch.

As Japan switched to a more direct style in the second half, Izwan was imperious, plucking crosses out of the air and punching corners away.

And when he was finally beaten in the 72nd minute by a Honda free kick, the upright came to Singapore's rescue.

The result means that the Lions top Group E with four points, ahead of Syria, Japan, Cambodia and Afghanistan. The group will also, for the first time, double up as the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers.

The Lions beat Cambodia 4-0 in their opening match last week, but with two-goal hero Safuwan Baharudin ruled out for personal reasons, and captain Shahril Ishak recovering from injury, it was a result against long odds.

Calling the result "unexpected", national head coach Bernd Stange said: "We played football that was not attractive for neutrals, but what can we do?

"Japan played excellent football, but we were massive defensively. It was not that Japan disappointed, but that we made it extremely difficult. We had a fantastic goalkeeper and luck as well."

It might not be the last that the Japanese see of Izwan, the German hopes. He said: "Izwan will soon attract big clubs because the way he plays football and his reactions are amazing.

"I expect him to play in Japan very, very soon."

twtoh@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'LIONS REPEL SAMURAI CHARGE'. Print Edition | Subscribe