Mohamad Izwan bin Mahbud put on a goalkeeping masterclass as Japan were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by Singapore in their opening 2018 World Cup qualifier.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s Japan side were the overwhelming favourites heading into the Group E Asian qualifying contest in Saitama.
However, they were unable to find a way past Mahbud, who made a string of top-draw saves to earn Bernd Stange’s men a surprise point.
Japan showcased their superiority in a one-sided first half, but Halilhodzic saw a series of chances go begging with Shinji Okazaki twice denied well by Mahbud.
It was a similar story after the break as Japan peppered the Singapore goal, only for Mahbud to keep them at bay with Okazaki and Keisuke Honda both left flabbergasted by brilliant saves.
Even when Honda did find a way past Mahbud with a long-range free-kick, Singapore – who beat Cambodia 4-0 in their opening qualifier – were saved by the crossbar, as the game ended all square.
Japan were dominant in the opening stages and Shinji Kagawa fired the first warning when he turned sharply before forcing Mahbud into a smart save with a 20-yard drive.
Captain Makoto Hasebe then led a swift break and picked out Honda on right, he in turn crossed low to the near post where Okazaki could only clip his shot wide.
The hosts continued to turn the screw and Hasebe’s low shot was saved well by Mahbud, before Kagawa dragged a long-range effort wide.
Mahbud again came to Singapore’s rescue by keeping out Okazaki’s one-on-one effort with his legs after a well-worked move, while Tomoaki Makino glanced a header narrowly wide from a corner.
Japan continued in the ascendancy after the break as Honda bent a right-foot shot wide of the right-hand post.
Mahbud then pulled off his best save of the match in the 55th minute when he clawed away Okazaki’s point-blank header from 10 yards.
Honda was the next to be left shaking his head in disbelief as he met a corner from the right with a powerful header that looked destined for goal before Mahbud flung himself to the right to make a great one-handed stop.
The Milan midfielder did beat Mahbud in the 72nd minute with a superb 25-yard free-kick, but this time Honda was denied by the woodwork.
Honda again went close with a curling left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area in the closing stages, but his shot went wide of the left-hand post as time ran out for Japan.