In search of magic
Blue Samurai still finding their feet after World Cup hangover
His eyes were transfixed on a point in the distance, well beyond the Bishan Stadium gate that was 10 metres ahead of him, but there was something most strange about Mike Havenaar.
Havenaar is a 1.94m tall Caucasian forward in Japan's national football team, but that wasn't it.
He was hissing - literally.
Reminiscent of a young Harry Potter talking to magical serpents, Havenaar was seemingly lost in his own world, ignoring calls from reporters to stop and chat, still hissing as he exited the stadium after Japan's hour-long training session yesterday.
The 27-year-old is one of a few new additions to the Japan team who will line up against Brazil at Singapore's brand new 55,000-capacity National Stadium at the Sports Hub tomorrow, as new coach Javier Aguirre continues to rally his charges along a different path.
Even though a friendly, the match is a sellout and, while much of the focus of Singapore's fans will be on record five-time world champions Brazil, the Blue Samurai will have a sizeable force on the terraces of the National Stadium.
They will be excited at the prospect of watching their favourites in action, but many critics will also be scrutinising Aguirre, after the Mexican was appointed coach after Japan's torrid outing at June's World Cup.
Speaking on the sidelines of the team's training session yesterday, Japan's No. 1, Eiji Kawashima, the goalkeeper of Belgian side Standard Liege, said: "We are still on the way to be that team our coach wants to see.
"Our new coach came in September and just had three games, but I think now we are in a good way.
"Brazil are one of the strongest teams in the world and it's not easy to win, but it's going to be a good experience for us."
Japan are still some way from playing the football that 55-year-old Aguirre envisions.
After two games in charge - a 2-0 loss to Uruguay and a 2-2 draw with Venezuela - he called for more imagination from his men, urging them to "think outside the box", but there was to be no magic, even as they beat Jamaica 1-0 in their third match under the Mexican last Friday in Niigata.
It was another game of wasted chances, won through an own goal, no less.
Japan are the reigning Asian Cup champions and will look to defend their crown in Australia in January.
But their World Cup performance has seen them lose their spot as Asia's No. 1 team in Fifa's latest rankings, falling to second spot behind Iran.
And, with that, they seem to have lost that air of dominance and confidence.
"We feel that other teams have improved over the last few years (since the 2011 Asian Cup win) and we won't be a surprised if other teams do win (next year)," said Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagamoto.
"Let's not talk about confidence, but our target is still to win the Asian Cup."
If yesterday's training session is anything to go by, it appears that Japan will be more focused on containing Brazil than going out to win the game.
Aguirre focused on the defensive shape of the team, having all his players run out in their respective positions, shifting to cut down space in different areas across the park.
When asked if he had a plan to stop Brazil's hotshot Neymar, Kawashima said: "Neymar is a star, but there are others (in the Brazil team who are) among the best in Europe, and we are looking at Brazil as a team."
Aguirre had counted on Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa to bring some magic to Japan's attacking game, but will have to manage without the former Manchester United man who is still recovering from a concussion.
Nagamoto called Aguirre's methods and strategies "different" from those used by former coach Alberto Zaccheroni, calling him an approachable coach, but who is otherwise strict.
Right now, though, the goal of the team is a simple one, as they strive to embrace the vision of the former Espanyol coach.
"This new team are under new coach, it will be a new start for us," said midfielder Gaku Shibasaki, who earned his first cap against Venezuela.
"And we will work hard."