Lions had the look of fear, says Leonard Thomas
Scared Lions taken to school by Samurai Blue as Syria date looms large
(Mu Kanazaki 20, Keisuke Honda 26, Maya Yoshida 87)
After more than 110 minutes of frustration, they let off steam in a frenzied celebration last night, led by Mu Kanazaki.
After eyebrow-raising misses, unlucky misses and a glorious performance by Izwan Mahbud in Saitama, Japan finally got the goal they clamoured for here last night to set them on their way to the top of Group E of the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers.
The joy the gaggle of Japanese players displayed as they clambered all over each other after Kanazaki's strike suggested they felt it was long overdue.
Kanazaki's volleyed goal was the first in Japan's 3-0 stroll over Singapore at the National Stadium, with Keisuke Honda and Maya Yoshida also getting on the scoresheet as their blue-clad band sang and clapped and danced in the stands.
And, when the referee blew the final whistle, another match had gone and Singapore's fans continue to wait.
For the national team to turn the country's impressive new football arena into the sacred home of the Lions.
A Suzuki Cup defence ended in a whimper, a cherished Causeway clash with Malaysia was lost, and two recent qualifiers with Cambodia and Afghanistan were won in pedestrian style.
Last night's game could have been the one where the Lions left an emphatic mark at their new football arena, not with a victory, of course, because Vahid Halilhodzic's Samurai Blue are in a different class.
But a fearless performance by the hosts would have been enough to begin the restoration of long lost confidence in their following.
Instead, I saw fear among the home players.
This was an opportunity to begin to woo the fans back, but right from the start, the Lions' close control was abysmal, passes aimless and decision-making mistake riddled.
The Japanese fans were out in force but there was a strong Singapore presence in the stands among the 33,868 crowd as well, and I'm sure a sizeable population was watching on TV, because everyone wanted to catch Milan's Honda and Dortmund's Shinji Kagawa do something special, and many were curious to see how the Lions would fare against Asian football royalty.
They saw a Japan team tie up the hosts in knots for the first 35 minutes, before the visitors mercifully took their foot off the pedal.
Fazrul Nawaz flopped as a lone striker and was spared more misery when Bernd Stange hauled him off at half-time.
Captain and star midfielder Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin, the two mainstays in the team, were powerless as the Samurai Blue sensed the fear and slowly choked the Lions into submission.
Safuwan did go close with a header in the second half, Hafiz Abu Sujad just failed to connect with another cross, a goal for the Lions then would have roused spirits on the field and raised a roar in the stands, but the football gods had already played their part for the Singapore side in the 0-0 in June in Saitama.
Izwan was once again outstanding last night, diving left and right, staying big in a number of one-on-one situations and plucking crosses confidently; at least he seems to enjoy occasions where he stares the continent's best players.
Halilhodzic paid tribute to Singapore's goalkeeper after the game, I hope no one else among the Lions left the stadium at all satisfied.
Japan's wait for revenge after the Saitama draw is over.
The Japanese have also applied some balm over the gaping wounds of the 4-0 massacre by Neymar and Brazil last year at the National Stadium.
For Singapore's huge football following, the wait continues.
Suddenly, the tie against Syria on Tuesday has become the most important game for Stange's men, to continue their challenge to qualify for the Asian Cup in 2019, and to christen the National Stadium as the Lions' house.
On Tuesday, Stange's men must shed the heavy baggage that seems to weigh them down.
Few among them can challenge the top players in the region.
But I just want them to show no fear.
- Afghanistan 3 Cambodia 0
- Singapore v Syria
- Cambodia v Japan
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH
IZWAN MAHBUD (above)
Faultless for the three goals Singapore conceded, the 25-year-old shot-stopper again stole the show against Japan.
Made several superb saves to deny the Samurai Blue a handsome win, and was even personally congratulated by their coach Vahid Halilhodzic after the game.
S'PORE - JAPAN
2 Total Shots 23
0 On Target 15
2 Off Target 8
1 Offsides 4
3 Corners 5
2 Yellow cards 1
TEAMS & PLAYERS' RATINGS
- SINGAPORE: Izwan Mahbud 9, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari 6, Madhu Mohana 6.5, Baihakki Khaizan 6.5, Shakir Hamzah 6, Izzdin Shafiq 6, Hariss Harun 8, Faris Ramli 6 (Christopher van Huizen, 81), Safuwan Baharudin 6.5 (Zulfahmi Arifin, 90), Hafiz Abu Sujad 7, Fazrul Nawaz 6 (Sahil Suhaimi 46, 6.5)
- JAPAN: Shusaku Nishikawa, Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Masato Morishige, Yuta Nagatomo, Makoto Hasebe, Yosuke Kashiwagi, Keisuke Honda (Genki Haraguchi 83), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Shinji Kagawa 75), Yoshinori Muto (Takashi Usami 70), Mu Kanazaki
- Attendance: 33,868
- Referee: Fahad Al Mirdasi (Saudi Arabia)
BLOW BY BLOW
Izwan Mahbud makes his first of no less than 12 saves on a busy night by denying Keisuke Honda.
Hiroshi Kiyotake's floated free-kick is headed towards goal by Masato Morishige and Izwan is equal to it. Hariss Harun then has to clear off the line from Mu Kanazaki's follow-up.
S'pore 0 Japan 1.
Yoshinori Muto heads down the ball in the box for Kanazaki, who chests the ball and fires it past Izwan with his left foot.
Izwan foils Honda again, this time blocking the AC Milan man's free-kick, before denying Morishige's follow-up.
S'pore 0 Japan 2.
Unmarked in the box, Honda's tame shot deflects off Nazrul Ahmad Nazari and wrongfoots Izwan.
Kanazaki is through on goal but Izwan is early off his line and thwarts the shot.
Singapore get their first shot away as Safuwan Baharudin heads agonisingly wide from Izzdin Shafiq’s free-kick.
Singapore’s second shot comes from Hafiz Abu Sujad, who is unable to divert Faris Ramli’s cross towards goal
S’pore 0 Japan 3.
Maya Yoshida connects with a header and, even though Nazrul clears off the line, the Southampton defender reacts fastest to turn the loose ball in.