Five Japanese villains ready to take down Singapore
Currently third in Group E, level on points with second-placed Japan and just two points behind group leaders Syria with three matches remaining, Singapore are right in contention for what would be a first ever Asian Cup berth.
But a significant test of their true credentials is about to arrive – hosting the Samurai Blue and then Syria over the next two weeks in these joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers.
The last time Singapore faced Japan's star-studded line-up – June 16, 2015 – has quickly become the stuff of legend, with an upstart Singapore side ranked 102 places below its opponent biting and clawing its way to a famous 0-0 draw in Saitama.
Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud’s standing in Singaporean football grew enormously that night, with his 18 saves somehow keeping the Samurai Blue at bay.
Suffering the ignominy of being booed off their home field, there is little doubt Japan will roll into Singapore like a wounded tiger, still smarting from that night and intent on setting the record straight.
Here are the five key Japanese villains preparing to break Singaporean hearts on Tuesday.
Shinji Kagawa – 'The Conductor'
The 26-year-old cultural phenomenon needs no introduction. An icon in his homeland, he enjoys similar adoration in Southeast Asia and his presence alone will ensure the National Stadium is close to capacity come kick-off.
The first Japanese player to represent Manchester United, where he won a Premier League title in 2012-13, Kagawa has found a home in the Bundesliga.
Returning to former club Borussia Dortmund in 2014, the attacking midfielder has improved noticeably to the point where he’s now in career-best form for the German giants.
Seemingly relishing new coach Thomas Tuchel’s expansive playing style, he has been racking up goals and assists and will likely be the key man next Thursday night.
And if all of that wasn’t already enough, Kagawa was a surprise 61st-minute substitution out of the last clash with Singapore for compatriot Yuya Osako. Just a little added motivation, if any was needed, to produce his absolute best against the Lions and prove last time was only an aberration.