Izwan upbeat ahead of Japan clash

Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud is optimistic that his side can emerge from their 2018 World Cup qualifier against Japan on Thursday with a point.

Izwan put in a superb performance when the teams met on June 16, with Singapore holding their much more favoured opponents to a goalless draw.

With Singapore level on 10 points with Japan on the Group E standings, Izwan is hopeful that he can inspire his side to a similar result over Samurai Blue before going on to beat group leaders Syria next week.

“Hopefully out of those two games we can get four points,” Izwan told FourFourTwo. “We have to beat Syria. We have to. We were unlucky to lose to them in the away game.

“Of course we’re realistic and the realistic target is the Asian Cup. But if we get to the next round of the World Cup, it would be a huge boost for us.

“There’s still a long way to go. We still also have to play Afghanistan (in their final qualifying game in March next year) and they are a very good team.”

Izwan was on top form against Japan, making 18 saves as he denied a star-studded Japan line-up, and the 25-year-old has admitted he felt somewhat overwhelmed by events as he did not even expect to start the fixture. 

“That was one of the greatest games of my career against a team full of European stars; (Shinji) Kagawa, (Keisuke) Honda, (Maya) Yoshida,” he said.

“I didn’t expect that I’d start the game and when the coach said I’d be starting, I was pretty nervous. We had a power nap before the game and when I woke up, I remember speaking to my roommate Nazrul Nazari saying ‘we are seriously about to play Japan!’

“We never would have believed it. Then I was in the tunnel with them and we went out to warm up and you could see the Blue Samurai crowd.

“I was a bit nervous in the tunnel seeing them beside me, especially (current Borussia Dortmund and former Manchester United midfielder) Kagawa, as I’m a ‘Man U’ fan. It was one of the best games in my career. I was also lucky that day that some of the balls hit the post.”

Looking ahead to Thursday’s match, Izwan is expecting Japan to be more aggressive as they look to surpass Syria at the top of the standings. 

However, he believes that Singapore have the upper hand as they will be playing on home soil, with the sweltering conditions tough to come to terms with.

“I’m expecting more attacks from Japan,” he said. “Of course we’ll try our best and we’re in the running for the qualifiers, we’re in a good spot, but Japan are one of the top countries in Asia.

“We have a game plan, the coach will decide everything, and we just have to give our all and concentrate and work as a team.

“It’s our home ground so we’ll try our best to get a result. The fans will be behind us and Japan won’t be used to this hot weather. You never know in football. It can be a funny game.”