Playing the full match at centre-back for Singapore Under-23s in their 1-8 loss against Japan U-22s, Shakir Hamzah had a front-row seat to the horror show that unfolded on Saturday.
And it was not a pretty sight for the captain, who watched in vain as the Japanese ran rings around Singapore, outclassing them in every department.
Blaming himself for the defeat, Shakir told The Straits Times: "We did not communicate as well as we should have, and it was partly my fault.
"As captain, I should have led the team, pushed them to give their best despite the scoreline, but I didn't. I was a bit shell-shocked, because Japan really dominated us. They were the strongest team I've ever faced.
"I'm still learning how to be a leader. I know as one of the senior players, I have to stand up and take responsibility. And I will push the team to be better."
The U-23s regrouped yesterday at Jalan Besar Stadium.
The overall mood was sombre, and coach Aide Iskandar held a team talk in the centre circle before the session started.
While one of the first things the team usually do after a match is to watch the replay, a video session was not held yesterday. Instead, Aide said the team will watch the Japan replay today.
The ex-national captain said: "I don't want to overload them with information. We had an off-day, Japan were exceptional. It's football."
While he was slightly disappointed with the starting XI, who allowed Japan far too much time and space on the ball, Aide chose to focus on the positives.
The 39-year-old, who is eyeing a first-ever football gold at June's SEA Games, said: "It's good that they exposed our back line, so we can try to fix it before the SEA Games."
He was also pleased with the performances of Irfan Fandi and Taufiq Muqminin.
Irfan earned plaudits for scoring Singapore's only goal with a neat finish, while Taufiq, who came on with the team 0-5 down, did well in the heart of defence alongside Shakir.
Amirul Adli, who started alongside Shakir, was pushed up into a holding midfield role, a position he performed well in at last year's Asian Games.
Said Aide: "There's more to come from the boys. No disrespect to our South-east Asian neighbours, but I don't think they can expose us the way Japan did.
"Japan taught us that at the highest level, you cannot afford to have an off day.
"The boys are motivated about not letting our fans down, and the target is still the same - to try our best to win it."
Captain Shakir called on his team to move on from the Japan result, and start to hit the heights they are capable of - starting with Saturday's friendly match against Syria U-23. The Syrian side will also play Singapore U-22 tomorrow at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Shakir said: "Against Japan, maybe we were a little awed and scared. We focused too much on what they could do, instead of just focusing on our game plan.
"But I've seen what the team is capable of. We just have to start showing it."
This article was first published on February 17, 2015.
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