FFT's Singapore Spotlight... Izwan Mahbud

In the first of our close looks at pivotal members of the Singapore national team in action, we kept our eyes peeled on goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud throughout Tuesday’s clash with Cambodia…

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Izwan Mahbud will have tougher nights than this.

For the majority of the joint World Cup/Asian Cup qualifier against a largely-outclassed Cambodian outfit at the National Stadium, Izwan was reduced to a glorified cheerleader, only donning goalkeeping gloves instead of pom-poms.

It was an opportunity to practice his passing and distribution, and offer vocal support to his defensive line, rather than maintain high alert for repeated waves of Cambodian attacks.

That kind of test will be on the horizon soon, with mighty Japan and impressive Syria soon to hit these shores.

No, what could most aptly be said of Izwan this night was that old creed goalkeepers live and die by – he made the saves he was required to, apart from one lapse in the second half in a match that ended 2-1 to Singapore, but was far more lopsided than that scoreline indicates.

He was only required to make one save in the first half, which arrived in the 23rd minute, and he certainly had to be at his best. A knockdown header from the busy Keo Sokpheng fell perfectly for the onrushing Sos Suhana.

Suhana got plenty of power behind his shot from right around the penalty spot, but Izwan was in perfect position to get his body behind it and repel the fierce drive with his legs.

It came a short time after Faris Ramli had opened the scoring for Singapore and was a reminder to the home team to remain alert.

Two minutes after Suhana’s great chance, the in-form Chan Vathanaka’s wide ball found Sam Oeun Pidor, whose cross made it to Suhana in the box.

But his free header bounced once and landed gently into Izwan’s grateful arms as the moment of danger passed.

That was about the peak of the first-half action for Izwan, but it didn’t mean he simply took a seat in the stands and helped himself to a bucket of popcorn.

Even with little danger around him, the 25-year-old is in almost perpetual motion, occasionally allowing himself a moment to stop and observe when Singapore are well into attack mode.

The moment there is a turnover, he is then back on the balls of his feet, intently following the play while regularly extending his arms in traffic-cop fashion to indicate where he’d like his defenders to slide.

For large parts of Tuesday's game, Izwan was an isolated figure

Izwan’s opposite number Um Sereirath actually produced a little masterclass of his own late in the half, guessing correctly to dive low to his right and save Khairul Amri’s penalty attempt to keep the score 1-0 at the break.

The second half would prove similarly leisurely for Singapore’s No.1 stopper, with providing the impetus for his team going forward more of a modus operandi than protecting his goal.

That was, of course, apart from the moment his line was breached for just the second time in 450 minutes of qualifying football. It was a moment that seemed to stun everyone in the stadium, including the plucky Cambodians.

A tricky Vathanaka ball from the byline led to a rare mix-up between Baihakki Khaizan and Madhu Mohana, with Suhana taking advantage of their lapse in concentration to poke the ball home from close range.

Despite that blip, it was still a job well done for Izwan in this ever-more encouraging qualifying campaign under coach Bernd Stange. Ten points are now in the bank through five games, a satisfying return in anyone’s language.

He had little to do on this night, but it’s best Izwan stays sharp, both physically and mentally.

In a matter of weeks the significant figure of Shinji Kagawa’s Samurai Blue will be in town, still smarting from that 0-0 draw against Singapore in Saitama back in June for which Izwan drew such deserved acclaim.

If another clean sheet is in the offering that night, Izwan’s legend will reach new heights and a first Asian Cup qualification a step closer to reality.

Tickets to Singapore's upcoming home World Cup qualifiers against Japan and Syria are now on sale. Get yours from Sports Hub Tix, by calling the hotline at +65 6333 5000/+65 3158 7888, by visiting the Singapore Indoor Stadium box office or dropping into any SingPost outlet islandwide.

Photos: Weixiang Lim/Stefanus Ian, FourFourTwo