Japan out to prove Saitama draw was a blip
Japanese out to right Saitama wrong, and regain Asian status
Almost immediately after watching his team fail to score in the draw in Saitama in June, Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic declared: "... we'll absolutely win in Singapore."
After arriving here on Sunday night, the Asian giants stretched their limbs in the first training session at the Bishan Stadium yesterday.
When the coaches and players spoke, it quickly became clear they are out to prove a point against Singapore in Thursday's World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier at the National Stadium.
Maya Yoshida, the 27-year-old centre back who has played 71 games in four seasons for Southampton in the English Premier League, articulated the Japanese mentality and approach to the match.
He told The New Paper: "Singapore did very well defensively in our previous encounter and it is always difficult playing against a team who are trying to defend for the full 90 minutes.
"In football you always need some luck, but I don't want to tell the media we couldn't beat Singapore because it was luck. I prefer to be more professional and talk more about tactics.
"I'm sure Singapore will be looking to counter-attack and our defence needs to focus for 90 minutes and stop the first movement of counterattack.
"To win, maybe we have to shoot more from outside the box, but we have to produce more goalscoring options and make sure we are going to win this game.
"We want to make sure we won't draw or lose against the same team again."
After crashing out of the World Cup in Brazil last year without a win, Japan were beaten by the United Arab Emirates on penalties in this year's Asian Cup qualifiers.
Currently No. 50 on Fifa's world rankings, Japan are no longer top dogs on the continent, with Iran (No. 43) and South Korea (48) ahead of them, while Australia are the current Asian champions.
The players are not oblivious to the fact that they are closer to their worst Fifa ranking (62nd, in Feb 2000) than their best (ninth, in Feb 1998).
Japan striker Keisuke Honda told TNP: "Football is developing a lot in this region and at a very fast pace. Like recent matches against Singapore have shown, we are not having it easy like before when we were beating teams by many goals.
"We have to think about it and find ways to improve."
What has not diminished, however, is the fanatical support the Samurai Blue enjoy, as around 400 Japanese fans and media personnel clamoured for a piece of their national team yesterday - missing were Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who arrived only last night after playing for their clubs on Sunday.
Japan feel they owe it to the supporters to bring the team back to the pinnacle of Asian football.
Goalkeeper coach Ricardo, a 43-year-old former Spain international who played for Manchester United, said: "Of course there is pressure. Whenever we play in Asia, we are expected to win.
"But that's what the coaches have joined Japan for, to take Japan back to the top of Asia.
"We were held to a draw by Singapore in Saitama and now we have to show we are stronger. Football is won on the pitch and we have to prove ourselves on Thursday."
It is hard to fault the Japanese, who have won nine out of 15 internationals this year, scoring 35 goals and conceding just seven.
Few expect them to leave Singapore without three points, and it should be a formality for them to qualify for the next round of World Cup qualifiers.
There, the top 12 Asian countries will fight for four automatic slots in Russia 2018, and Yoshida said: "It is difficult to say if we are on our way back to the top because it is just the second round of the World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers now and maybe the next round will be more difficult.
"For now, we are looking to get the job done and win our next match."