Football: Nothing but a win

They might have touched down at Changi Airport just before 1am this morning after a seven-hour flight from Tokyo, but the Samurai Blue carried themselves with an air of dignity and duty that did credit to their name.

Instead of donning armour, Vahid Halilhodzic's samurais wore snazzy navy blue pin-stripe suits, and armed themselves with smiles as they appeared before some 50 Japanese fans gathered at Terminal 1.

Back in June, the Bosnian watched on in horror as Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud inspired a stubborn Singapore side to a stunning 0-0 draw with Japan in Saitama, but Halilhodzic vowed there will be no repeat of that night's blip in Singapore on Thursday.

Japan are hell-bent on winning the World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier in the Lions' own den.

Halilhodzic took time to sign jerseys for kids, pose for pictures with female fans, even shaking the hand of an on-looker who had no clue as to his identity, but he had only one word for The New Paper.

"Yes," he said when asked if Japan had come here to set the record straight, but it was delivered with a wry smile, made seemingly more malevolent by his mop of wild white hair.

In an earlier interview with the Japan Football Association (JFA) official website, Halilhodzic made his intention clearer.

"We will end (the year) with two wins," said the Bosnian of Thursday's date with Singapore, and a trip to Phnom Penh to face Cambodia five days later.

"The Singapore match is an opportunity to get back at ourselves. I want my players to brace themselves for the match."

Japan are second in Group E, level on 10 points with third-placed Singapore, and two adrift of leaders Syria, who have played one game less than all teams in the group.

The Japanese have called up their big guns, including AC Milan's Keisuke Honda, Yuto Nagamoto of Inter Milan, as well as Shinji Kagawa, but the Borussia Dortmund midfielder has yet to join up with the squad, having opened the scoring for the German side in their 3-2 win over Schalke in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

Sources told TNP that some of Japan's Germany-based players had arrived earlier yesterday afternoon, but stars like Honda were also not seen among the group that arrived at Changi.

It was Urawa Reds' central defender Tomoaki Makino who was the toast of the fans last night, still signing autographs and posing for pictures, long after the rest of his teammates had left for the hotel.

The team will start training this evening.

This article was first published on Nov 9, 2015.
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