Football: Eager to slay Lions

Football: Eager to slay Lions
Japan national football team training ahead of World Cup qualifier against Singapore on Thursday.
PHOTO: The New Paper

They might not want to admit it, but there is little doubt the superstars of Japan are eyeing revenge on Thursday night.

The football gods might have smiled on Singapore, especially goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, who pulled off the performance of his life in the headline-grabbing 0-0 in Saitama in the their World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier in Saitama in June.

Since the shocker in Saitama, Japan have steamrolled all before them in the group, scoring 12 goals and conceding none.

Few expect the Japanese to leave Singapore with anything less than a win, many expect the Lions to be put to the sword, singling out the attacking trio of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Shinji Kagawa as the ones to carve the home side's defence apart.

Admittedly, they huffed and puffed in Saitama, with AC Milan midfielder Honda coming closest when his free-kick from 20 metres crashed against the angle of post and bar.

Okazaki, who plays for high-flying Leicester City in the Premier League, also went close with a header.

Speaking after his side's training session at the Bishan Stadium yesterday, Honda insisted Japan did not need to prove a point on Thursday.

When asked if they felt they had to rack up the goals to prove the June result was a one-off, the 29-year-old blond-haired star told The New Paper: "No... That's not our target.

"My guess is it will be another difficult game here, but of course, we will try our best and of course, our supporters expect our victory.

"So we have to win."

Judging by the team's only public training session yesterday, winning is the only thing on the mind of Japan coach Vahid Halilodzic.

The 300-odd Japanese fans who turned up at Bishan might have left disappointed.

For one, Borussia Dortmund star Kagawa was missing. The 26-year-old played and scored in his team's 3-2 win over Schalke on Sunday night, and arrived only last night.

The supporters also did not get to see Honda bulge the net with his rocket left foot.

Nor did they get to see Okazaki's deadly instincts in front of goal, which has made him the third-highest Japan striker in history, with 47 goals from 97 caps.

Instead, most of Japanese players simply limbered up by running.

Clearly, the aim of the training session was to get used to the heat and humidity.

Honda and Okazaki, who were in action for their teams in Milan and England over the weekend, only did recovery training with eight other Europe-based players.

After half an hour jogging round the Bishan pitch, the 10 players split into two groups of five, with Honda and Okazaki part of a pack that picked up the pace.

After almost 45 minutes, they finally got a feel of the ball, but that was only for a series of close-control drills, before a short game of monkey in the middle.

Honda, nicknamed "Keizer Keisuke" (Emperor Keisuke) in Holland after his performances for former team VVV Venlo, was clearly the star.

He was the last to leave the pitch, and also the last out of the dressing room.

When TNP asked him about the Singapore goalkeeper, he grinned and said: "I'm sorry, I have no idea."

We know there are many Japanese living here and we are not surprised by the turnout. We appreciate the support and we want to put on a good show for our fans. - Japan and Southampton defender, Maya Yoshida

This article was first published on Nov 10, 2015.
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