Lions defenders given a lesson by Japan’s pace
Lions defenders given harrowing time by Japan's pacy pass-and-move attack
(Mu Kanazaki 20, Keisuke Honda 26, Maya Yoshida 87)
It was the sort of lop-sided match that could easily destroy the losers' faith in their own abilities.
Especially the defenders, who cannot be faulted for lack of commitment, but were too often left requiring to make desperate last-ditch challenges.
Like a puppet on a string, the Lions defence were pulled in different directions at will by the rampaging Japanese, who moved so fast that they looked like they were playing with extra men in the World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier at the National Stadium last night.
Singapore national football coach Bernd Stange said after the match: "They pulled us left and right with their short passes and they put us under enormous pressure.
"We can't blame the defenders because playing against Japan, everyone must defend starting from the striker.
"We were afraid to defend higher in the first 15 minutes. We defended too deep and that gave them the chance to split our defence through the middle."
Mu Kanazaki had time to chest and volley past Izwan Mahbud in the 20th minute and, while Keisuke Honda's 26th-minute deflected shot and Maya Yoshida's opportunistic effort three minutes from time had elements of luck, it could have been more if not for Izwan's 12 saves.
These were the type of statistics that can make heroes out of goalkeepers, but a harrowing night for defenders.
Lions centre back Madhu Mohana, 24, readily admitted to the gulf in standards and said: "We were overworked. We tried our best, but we were outclassed.
"Japan were just of a different standard. When they attack, it's not simply a one-versus-one scenario. They always manage to create a two- or three-on-one situation which made it difficult for us to cope.
"The scoreline is a fair result and accurate reflection of the match.
"There's no point patting ourselves on the back and saying that we lost only 3-0. It's good that we had this experience against Japan, so we can learn where we are lacking and try to improve.
"We need to deal better with pace. We are just not at that level yet, in terms of fast football, be it movement, passing or speed of thought."
His centre-back partner, centurion Baihakki Khaizan, also admitted they not only ran out of the luck they enjoyed in the 0-0 draw against Japan at Saitama in June, but they also didn't play as well as they could.
The 31-year-old said: "We were not as lucky as we were in Saitama. Our anticipation was not as sharp as it was in Saitama.
"We coped well before the first two goals, but Japan's understanding, passing, technique and communication were all of a standard befitting of a top football team.
"We went into the game knowing we were not going to beat them, but we gave it our all, tried to create chances, which we did.
"I don't think we were humiliated, but we were definitely taught a lesson by one of Asia's best teams."
In six minutes, Singapore conceded the same number of goals they had in five previous World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers.
While the Lions were left licking their wounds, they know they have to recover swiftly before next Tuesday's match against Syria, when a win would cement third place in Group E and hopefully secure a slot in the next round of the Asian Cup qualifiers, while defeat could jeopardise their hopes.
"Conceding three goals will, even if it was against Japan, definitely affect our confidence," said Madhu.
"But we have to be professional and get into the right frame of mind quickly to take on Syria.
"We were unlucky not to beat them in Oman, where we lost 1-0, but we also know the threats they pose going forward. We have to find the solutions to stop them if we want to progress in the Asian Cup qualification."
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