WCQ/ACQ PREVIEW: Singapore vs Japan

2018 World Cup/2019 Asian Cup Qualifiers

National Stadium, Thursday 12 November 2015, 7.15pm


Squad Selection

Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny (Army United), Izwan Mahbud (LionsXII), Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa)

Defenders: Nazrul Nazari, Faritz Hameed, Madhu Mohana, Shakir Hamzah, (LionsXII), Baihakki Khaizan (JDT II), Amirul Adli (Courts Young Lions), Shaiful Esah (Tampines Rovers)

Midfielders:  Safuwan Baharudin, Izzdin Shafiq, Zulfahmi Arifin, Faris Ramli, Christopher van Huizen, Hafiz Sujad (LionsXII), Safirul Sulaiman (Courts Young Lions), Hariss Harun (JDT), Yasir Hanapi (Home Utd)

Forwards: Sahil Suhaimi (LionsXII), Taufik Suparno (Courts Young Lions), Shahril Ishak (JDT II), Fazrul Nawaz (Warriors FC)


Team News

The biggest piece of news comes in the form of Khairul Amri’s absence. The Lions’ first choice striker was already a doubt after sustaining a hamstring injury against Cambodia last month, and now definitely misses November’s double header, after coming off injured in a Malaysia Cup fixture for LionsXII, earlier this week.

Khairul Amri gets stretchered off at the stroke of half time vs Cambodia (cr: goal.com)
Khairul Amri gets stretchered off at the stroke of half time vs Cambodia (cr: goal.com)

Fazrul Nawaz, the in-form striker of Warriors FC, is likely to lead the line as he did in the second half vs Cambodia, where he also managed to score a goal.

Fazrul is still going strong as a contender for S-League top scorer, with 18 goals. (cr: espnfc.com)
Fazrul is still going strong as a contender for S-League top scorer, with 18 goals. (cr: espnfc.com)

Besides the exclusion of Khairul Amri, there are no changes to the selection, other than surprise call-ups for Safirul Sulaiman and Taufik Suparno, both from a resurgent Courts Young Lions team.


Past Meetings

Out of 27 encounters, the Japanese have won 22 and drawn 2. Singapore’s three victories came in 1959, 1962 and 1978. More recently, we have lost 3-0 (Feb 2000), 2-1 (Mar 2004), 1-0 (Nov 2004) and drew 0-0 in June 2015.

The last Singaporean to score against the Samurai Blue was Indra Sahdan, during a 2006 World Cup Qualifier, in 2004, only for Japan to score the winning goal in the last 8 minutes.

This Japan side boasted the likes of Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto, Shunsuke Nakamura and Shinji Ono. (Yet, it is said that had they drawn against Singapore, they would have been out of the World Cup Qualifying Round.)

Today, Japan are ranked 50th in the world by FIFA and are the third highest ranked team in Asia. Singapore ranks at 152nd.


Opposition Watch: Japan’s Results So Far

Japan 0 Singapore 0

Japan 3 Cambodia 0

Syria 0 Japan 3

Afghanistan 0 Japan 6


With 3 wins and 1 draw, Japan are second in Group E, with 10 points and 1 game in hand. They have scored 12 goals, and are the only team other than South Korea, yet to concede a goal in the competition.


Opposition Watch: Key Players

Made up of players coming from established clubs in Asia and Europe, almost every player in the Japan squad are worth a look, but the following three are often the fulcrum of Japan’s potent attack, and are worth special attention:

1) Shinji Kagawa (Attacking Midfielder)

The playmaker needs no introduction. Followers of European football would know him from his brief time in England, if not for his good work in the German Bundesliga. Although he struggled for a place at Manchester United, he is now back to his play-a-making best in Borussia Dortmund. Kagawa’s immaculate ball control and keen eye for a killer pass will be vital in unlocking Singapore’s tight defence.

2) Keisuke Honda (Attacking Midfielder)

Another top class player, Keisuke Honda has turned out for the likes of CSKA Moscow, AC Milan and is considered the most important player in the Japanese squad. Despite not being deployed as an out-and-out striker, he has amassed 32 goals for country, often at crucial times, and is also a dead-ball specialist.
The blonde-haired Honda cut a frustrated figure back in June, but will be back with a vengeance. (cr: pulse.ng)
The blonde-haired Honda cut a frustrated figure back in June, but will be back with a vengeance. (cr: pulse.ng)

3) Takashi Usami (Striker)

The Gamba Osaka star is currently second highest scorer in the J-League, with 19 goals to his name. Aged only 23, the striker is still relatively new to the Japan senior team but continues to improve his reputation as a rising star. Although he rotates and shares playing time with compatriots Shinji Okazaki and Yoshinori Muto, the Lions would be foolish to neglect Usami’s goalscoring threat.


Predicted Line-Ups

There should be minimal changes to a defence that have conceded only 2 goals in qualification. Despite Hassan Sunny’s phenomenal form in the Thai Premier League, Izwan Mahbud remains as coach Bernd Stange’s number 1 in goal.

Madhu Mohana will partner Baihakki Khaizan at centre back, with Nazrul Nazari on the right. Shaiful Esah should reclaim his left back spot after losing it to Shakir Hamzah due to injury in the previous match.

Madhu Mohana’s long throws have become a trademark of his game. (cr: fourfourtwo)
Madhu Mohana’s long throws have become a trademark of his game. (cr: fourfourtwo)

The Lions are also most likely to be anchored by a midfield trio of Hariss Harun, Izzdin Shafiq and Safuwan Baharudin. While most of the football headlines have been hogged by Safuwan in the earlier part of the year, Hariss has been quietly going about his work in the ambitious Malaysian side, Johor Darul Takzim.

Hariss became the first Singaporean to win the AFC Cup. (cr: the-afc.com)
Hariss became the first Singaporean to win the AFC Cup. (cr: the-afc.com)

Now, Hariss has returned into the spotlight, being an influential figure in JDT’s recent capture of the AFC Cup (Europa League equivalent) and the Malaysia Super League title. JDT are still hungry for more, as they go for the Malaysia Cup to complete a treble. Singapore will need Hariss at his usual calming best if we are to get anything out of the coming game.

Out wide, Hafiz Sujad should start on the left of midfield, as he did in Saitama, while the wide right position should go to Faris Ramli, who was on target against Cambodia. Should coach Bernd Stange need more defensive cover, he could send Yasir Hanapi or Shakir Hamzah on to replace either winger.

Khairul Amri’s big game abilities will be missed, but his absence would give Fazrul Nawaz the striking role he craves for.

As for Japan, Southampton defender Maya Yoshida and Inter Milan’s Yuto Nagatomo are definite starters in defence, alongside goalkeeper Nishikawa Susaku.

Apart from his solid defensive performances, Yoshida (blue) also scored a goal in qualification, against Cambodia (cr: zimbio)
Apart from his solid defensive performances, Yoshida (blue) also scored a goal in qualification, against Cambodia (cr: zimbio)

Captain Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt) is likely to be partnered by Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka) in the middle of the park as they seek to retain possession of the ball, while Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Takashi Usami play more advanced roles.

The feisty Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), usually starts as lone striker. Strikers Yoshinori Muto (Mainz 05) and Genki Haraguchi (Hertha Berlin) are also likely to play a part.


Thoughts & Predictions

The 0-0 draw in Saitama back in June was no doubt, an achievement for the National Team. However, it was one of the most one sided game of football I have ever seen and we shouldn’t be overly proud of it.

Yes, the Lions were very organized as a unit, and defensive heroics were plenty, especially from custodian Izwan Mahbud. But Singapore offered almost nothing going forward, registering, I believe, only one weak attempt on target.

All eyes will be on Izwan (green) as he once again attempts to foil Asia’s best. (cr: straitstimes)
All eyes will be on Izwan (green) as he once again attempts to foil Asia’s best. (cr: straitstimes)

Japan had all the possession and chances in the world, but somehow failed to find the back of the net. I take nothing away from the Singapore team, but we all have to admit that there was also a great deal of luck involved.

Such a freak result is unlikely to repeat itself, but it is exactly what we would be hoping for when the Samurai Blue come to visit. I wish I could hope for more, but recent performances against Afghanistan and Cambodia were mediocre, and there is not much to suggest that Singapore will have any say in this game.

There is also no indication that the team plays better at home and the Japanese fans are likely to turn up in numbers and be as loud as they usually are, to turn Kallang into a pseudo home-ground for their team.

The Japanese will be looking to paint Kallang blue. (cr: dailymail)
The Japanese will be looking to paint Kallang blue. (cr: dailymail)

On a more positive note, Singapore are usually defensively solid, and Izwan has kept his fine form, so who is to say he cannot replicate what he did in Saitama? With players like Safuwan and Shaiful Esah, we are always a threat at set-pieces. Hariss has also been playing well, and it will be interesting to see him take on the likes of Honda and Kagawa in front of my own eyes.

I remain optimistic for a draw, but there is that lingering feeling that the floodgates might open this time round as Vahid Halilhodzic‘s men are on a mission for revenge. 

But by a rather long stretch of my imagination…

I can see Izzdin Shafiq winning the ball off Kagawa. The Samurai Blue have committed their players forward. Izzdin looks up and sees Safuwan, already stationed far up field, signalling for him to go long. Izzdin plays the long pass and Safuwan, as he always does, gets a head on the ball, beating Yoshida in the attacking third of the field. 

Fazrul then latches on to it and finds himself 1 on 1 against Susaku. He takes a final look at the goal and pulls the trigger to clinically slot it past the goalkeeper. The crowd goes wild. I can’t believe it. You can’t believe it. The Seven Nation Army chant fills the stadium. The score board reads 1-0 and two minutes later the final whistle blows. The Lions got themselves a famous victory. 

But hey! That’s just my imagination…

If you would like to see the above possibly come true, join us at the National Stadium on 12 November!

Support your National Team this November! To purchase tickets to the home games against Japan and Syria, visit sportshub.com.sg


Aziz Azhar
A person who likes to take random walks to nowhere. Also thinks he knows so much about football.
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