NFA six shine in two friendlies in Japan
Singapore NFA players do well in two friendly matches
REPORTING FROM MATSUMOTO
In a city where castles still stand and raw horse meat is a delicacy, the 250,000-strong community is so closely knit even taxi drivers know about the six young Singaporean footballers' visit.
At the end of a week-long training stint with the youth academy of J2 League side Matsumoto Yamaga, the National Football Academy (NFA) boys are determined to put in the hard work and, hopefully, realise their dream of turning professional.
The trip was part of a collaboration between Epson Singapore and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
For the boys, the highlights were the two friendlies they played.
Last Friday, the NFA Under-15 quartet of Ashley Yong, Christian Chiang Moroni, Elijah Lim and Nur Adam Abdullah represented the Yamaga U-16s, as they beat Matsumoto Agatagaoka High School U-16s 5-1.
Playing in an unfamiliar role on the right wing, central midfielder Elijah grabbed one goal after a good run, while midfielder Ashley and centre back Adam notched an assist each.
Left back Christian contributed to a second-half clean sheet in the 80-minute game and also struck the bar with a long-range effort.
Last Saturday, all six, including the NFA U-14 duo of Marc Tan and Vasileios Chua, played for the Yamaga U-15s in a 4-2 win over the Maizen Junior High School U-15s.
Striker Vasileios was in the thick of the action in the attacking third, as he scored once, struck the woodwork twice and created the other three goals.
Right winger Marc hit the post once, netted an equaliser to level matters at 1-1, while Elijah kept up his fine scoring form from a wide position with a brace, and Adam provided the assist for Vasileios to make it 4-2.
It wasn't exactly a bed of roses for the six, though.
In their first training session last Monday, they were subjected to an intense fitness workout that saw some of them fail to keep up with their Japanese counterparts.
"The games and training sessions were quick and hard, but I felt I could cope," said Christian.
"The Japanese boys are stronger than us in terms of fitness but, if we are willing to work harder, train harder, and run more, we will improve and get there."
After receiving feedback from the likes of Yamaga's youth academy director Takeshi Yamazaki and their U-18s coach Takahiro Usui, NFA U-15s coach Robbie Servais said: "Our boys are tactically more developed in the sense that they recognise when and how to dictate the game, compared to the Japanese boys who tend to rush up and down the pitch, winning and losing possession as they try to find the most direct path to goal.
"That said, our boys' weaknesses were also apparent as their transition after losing possession is very weak and most are softer and slower in one-on-one situations.
"Overall, it was a very good trip for them to gain awareness. They see how the Japanese approach football as a profession rather than a hobby."
The NFA boys also caught two matches at the Alwin Stadium.
They watched Yamaga beat Ambicione Matsumoto 1-0 in the Nagano prefecture Youth Cup final after extra time last Saturday, and a J2 League match where Yamaga beat Montedio Yamagata 1-0 with a last-minute goal to rise to third place and stay in contention for an instant return to the top flight.
They also experienced what life was like living with 19 Yamaga youth players in the club's dormitory, participated in some volunteer work before the J2 League match on Sunday, and also trotted out the Fifa Fair Play flag in front of 12,141 singing fans before kick-off.
- David Lee's trip is courtesy of Epson Singapore, official partner of the Football Association of Singapore and the official office equipment partner of the FAS.