Four-times Asian champions Japan were held to a surprise goalless draw at home by a resolute Singapore today (June 16) in a poor start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Japan expectedly dominated possession and peppered the Singaporean goal at the Saitama Stadium, particularly in the second period, but poor finishing and inspired goalkeeping from Izwan Mahbud meant the visitors grabbed an unlikely point.
Keisuke Honda came closest to breaking the deadlock in the lop-sided contest with a 73rd minute free-kick which cannoned off the corner of post and cross bar but bounced clear to safety.
Izwan produced his best save in the 55th minute when he scooped a strong Shinji Okazaki header off the line at the second attempt, while he also did well to palm away a close range Honda header in the 68th minute.
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic, appointed in March, cut an increasingly irate figure on the sidelines as time wore on, the Franco-Bosnian coach pulling out the under-performing Shinji Kagawa and Takashi Usami and throwing in striker Yoshinori Muto.
Muto though failed to make a mark with Honda leading the charge. The AC Milan playmaker’s rasping long range drive in the 78th minute bending just wide off the goal as Izwan and his team mates held firm against further waves of pressure to pick up the precious point.
Singapore’s German coach Bernd Stange, under-fire after some poor results including a 2-2 friendly draw at home to Guam in March, had said pre-match it would be a “world sensation” if his 154th FIFA ranked side could hold Japan to a draw.
The surprise point moves them top of joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying Group E on four from two games after they won 4-0 in Cambodia in their opener last week.
Japan next face Cambodia at home in September while Singapore are away to Syria, who beat Afghanistan 6-0 in their opener on Thursday.