After Izwan Mahbud's 18 heroic saves in Singapore's goalless draw against mighty Japan in their World Cup qualifier earlier this month, three Singapore U14 footballers are having a taste of what it is like to train with J.League club, Matsutomo Yamaga FC.
In collaboration with Epson, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) handpicked the three U14 footballers from the National Football Academy (NFA) to spend a week in Japan. They will be training with Yamaga FC's U14 team in the Nagano prefecture.
Yamaga FC won promotion to the J.League first division last year, by virtue of finishing second in the second division behind champions Shonan Bellmare.
Armed with a commitment to develop their own players from a young age, the club is one of the few J.League teams to not utilise the five foreign player quota -- they only have Brazilians Obina and Dorival on their books. After a steady start to the season, they are in 15th position, above more established clubs such as Albirex Niigata and Shimizu S-Pulse.
The commitment to youth development is the key reason for FAS and Epson to give the Singaporean footballers a chance to experience life at the club. Judging by their first training session on Thursday, the trio of Hamizan Hisham, Elijah Lim and Adam Abdullah did enough to impress Yamaga U14 coach Toshihiro Yahata.
Toshihiro said: "The Singapore boys immediately gelled with our team despite the language barrier. They gave their 100 percent and showed interest throughout.
"All three boys demonstrated good technical and interaction skills and have the potential to represent Singapore football in future."
With Yamaga declaring their interest in taking Izwan for trials with their senior team, it was important that the three U14 players displayed professionalism to ensure the Japanese side got a lasting impression of Singapore players.
"It was challenging to communicate with the local players initially," said Adam. "The training is very high intensity and the first thing I realised was that they are very fast at both attacking and defending. The way they move the ball around is really good and the three of us will continue to match them and learn together.
"It is important for us to leave a good impression because we are not just here for ourselves but also representing Singapore football. If we do well and they (the coaches) like what they see, maybe more Singapore youngsters will get the opportunity to experience the Yamaga (FC) style like we have."
Watching from the sidelines during training was Epson's regional general manager Alvin Tan, who enabled the three footballers get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
He explained: "Through such Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, Epson hopes to contribute to the development of football in the region, and also society in general.
"FAS, together with Epson, have selected these players based on their technical skills, discipline and attitude after many rounds of interviews. Most importantly, we wanted to select young footballers who had the right attitude and give them the opportunity to experience what it is like to train with a J.League club like Yamaga FC. Hopefully they will go back to Singapore and share what they have learnt with their NFA teammates."
The trio will continue to train and experience life as a Japanese academy footballer before making their way back to Singapore next week.
It is understood that this is the first of such collaborations between Epson and FAS in what is a long-term project.