Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud produced another standout display between the sticks but it was not enough as the Lions went down 3-0 to Asian heavyweights Japan in their World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
The goalkeeper earned a trial with J-League outfit Matsumoto Yamaga after thwarting a relentless Japanese frontline in the return fixture which finished 0-0 in June and he was again winning plaudits after a strong showing at the National Stadium.
Singapore's Madhu Mohana (first from left) in action with Japan's Mu Kanazaki (centre) as Singapore's Izwan Mahbud saves. Photo: Sport Singapore
Izwan, 25, had already made a number of strong stops but was powerless to stop Mu Kanazaki's sparkling left foot shot that opened the scoring in the 20th minute.
The Lions XII goalkeeper conceded a second shortly after to AC Milan playmaker Keisuke Honda but only after the Japanese forward's striker took a cruel deflection to take the ball out of his reach.
Izwan, though, refused to drop his head and marshalled his backline well and was a cool presence when collecting crosses and sweeping up play.
Although he was beaten again in the closing stages after another deflected effort, this time by Maya Yoshida, he won big praise from both managers.
"The (Singapore) goalkeeper had a big game again today and I congratulated him personally," Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic told reporters.
"I don't know how many goals he stopped over these two games."
Singapore boss Bernd Stange was also full of praise for his custodian.
"We have an outstanding goalkeeper," the German said. "It was another top-class performance and I don't think he made any mistakes."
Izwan will be required to be at his brilliant best again on Tuesday when the Lions host Syria in another joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifier.
Singapore's Sahil Suhaimi (centre) battling hard with Japan's Masato Morishige and Japan's Keisuke Honda. Photo: Sport Singapore
Japan top Group E with 13 points after Thursday's win but Syria, on 12 points, and Singapore, on 10, are battling it out for second place which could earn a spot at the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE and the next stage of qualifying for Russia 2018.
The eight group winners and four best runners-up will advance, although Singapore could still make the Asian Cup by finishing third with another qualifying tournament taking place after this to determine the other 12 qualifiers for the UAE.
"Playing at home, Singapore must win the next game if they want to qualify." Halilhodzic advised.
The Lions will round off their campaign in March away to Afghanistan.