Matsumoto - The wet and chilly Matsumoto weather could not dampen the mood of Singapore Under-14 footballers Elijah Lim, Hamizan Hisham and Nur Adam Abdullah as they wrapped up a week-long training stint at J-League club Matsumoto Yamaga on a high yesterday.
The trio were part of the Fifa Fair Play flag-bearers who marched on to the pitch in front of 15,456 supporters at Yamaga's Alwin Stadium, moments before the home side took on Shonan Bellmare in a J-League Division One clash.
The electrifying atmosphere was a memorable send-off for the Singapore teenagers, who were applauded on and off the pitch by the fans.
Adam said: "It sure felt like I was a J-League player. It makes me want to work hard and aim for a career here. It has been a very good experience and I really want to thank Epson for giving us this opportunity."
The trio, all of whom are Singapore Sports School (SSP) students, earned this stint, thanks to a tie-up between the Football Association of Singapore and Epson, Yamaga's shirt sponsor.
The players took part in two group training sessions and a private coaching session, playing with Yamaga's U-14 team and under the academy's U-14 coach, Toshihiro Yahata. They also stayed in the club's dormitory, a three-storey building which houses some of the academy and first-team players.
Said Hamizan, the U-14s captain: "The biggest lesson I learnt was their attitude and commitment to training. Their focus and intensity are very high."
Elijah added: "Play was more physical than what we were used to. The boys were very quick in movement and thought, and were always thinking a few steps ahead."
Despite the chilly weather, which dipped below 18 deg C in the evening, the players overcame it and impressed Yahata, who said: "Technically, they are on a par with the Japan players.
"They did everything they were asked to, and they fit in to the team very well."
SSP football academy head coach Teng Wei Ken, who accompanied the players to Japan, said: "The key now is for the boys to get back, raise the bar and set an example for the players back home."
Chua Siang Yee