Singapore 0 Japan 3: No repeat of Saitama heroics for the Lions

The Singapore national team ran its socks off, but was eventually outclassed by a technically gifted Japan side 3-0 at the National Stadium on Thursday evening.

Early goals from Mu Kanazaki and Keisuke Honda put the visitors in the driving seat, before Maya Yoshida plunged the final dagger into Singapore’s hearts in the dying minutes.

The Lions tried their best to trouble their more illustrious opponents, but ultimately failed to test Japan keeper Shusaku Nishikawa throughout.

There were little surprises in the Singapore starting 11, with the in-form Fazrul Nawaz expectedly getting the nod to start upfront in the absence of the hamstrung Khairul Amri.

On the other side, Japan opted to leave Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki on the bench, with Yoshinori Muto and Kanazaki forming a front three alongside Honda.

Singapore’s strategy from the get-go was obvious – putting everyone behind the ball to stifle the visitors for as long as possible.

It worked well initially with Madhu Mohana and Hariss Harun winning their respective 50-50 challenges with Nagatomo and Muto.

However the Samurai Blue soon got into their groove and threatened Singapore keeper Izwan Mahbud for the first time after seven minutes.

Muto’s deep cross picked out a lurking Honda at the far post, but the latter’s resulting shot was clawed away before Kanazaki could capitalise.

They threatened again in the 16th minute, with Izwan having to fling himself to deny Masato Morishige’s close-range header before Fazrul was at the right place at the right time to block off Honda’s goal-bound header.

It seemed inevitable that the Japanese would go on to break the deadlock, which they did four minutes later.

Muto superbly knocked down Honda’s inswinging cross from the right for Kanazaki to volley home an emphatic left-footed effort past a hapless Izwan.

That was the Kashima Antlers forward’s first-ever international goal and he nearly doubled his account shortly thereafter, heading captain Makoto Hasebe’s cross just inches wide of the post.

Izwan was then forced to produce a double save from Honda and Morishige, but there was little that he could do to prevent a second goal on 26 minutes.

Shinji Kagawa was injected into the game with 15 minutes remaining

Hiroshi Kiyotake’s right-wing cross caused some chaos in the Singapore box, with Honda seizing his opportunity to belt a fierce first-time effort which took a deflection off Nazrul Nazari’s right leg before flying agonisingly past Izwan.

Japan held on to the two-goal advantage till half-time and Singapore coach Bernd Stange reacted by putting on Sahil Suhaimi for Fazrul for the second 45 minutes.

The 23-year-old gave the Lions much more impetus going forward as they started to venture further into the opponent’s half and string a few passes together.

Stange’s men finally got their first decent attempt on goal after 65 minutes, with Safuwan Baharudin heading just wide from Izzdin Shafiq’s long free kick.

There was another excellent opening seven minutes later as Faris Ramli picked out Hafiz Sujad in the box with a delightful right-wing cross, but the latter just failed to keep his header on target.

Both sides rang the changes in the final 15 minutes, with Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic giving Kagawa a run-out while Singapore counterpart Stange threw on debutant Christopher van Huizen for the jaded Faris.

Izwan then kept the score down with saves from Honda and Hiroki Sakai, but was left helpless again three minutes from time as Japan fired in the killer third goal.

After Usami Takashi's header was cleared off the line by Nazrul, Southampton centre-back Yoshida stayed alive in the box and eventually fired home a volley past the Singapore custodian.

Japan eventually ran out 3-0 winners on the night and overtook Syria at the top of Group E as a result.

Meanwhile Singapore will look to bounce back and keep their World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying hopes alive when they host Syria next Tuesday. 

Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo