Izwan Mahbud made national and regional headlines when Singapore drew 0-0 with Japan in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers on Jun 18. The 25-year-old put up a fantastic performance and made a record number of 18 saves in a single game, and by doing so, earned himself plaudits from his own countrymen, and even Japanese fans hailing him a “deity goalkeeper”.

The Barclays Asia Trophy 2015 has since arrived in Singapore with a British lineup of Arsenal, Stoke City, and Everton – with 2 of the 3 Premier League clubs set to face off against a Singapore Select XI team led by coach V. Sundramoorthy. Izwan, unsurprisingly, is the team’s number 1 goalkeeper.

Speaking at the pre-match press conference in the Grand Hyatt Hotel ahead of their semi-final against Arsenal, coach Sundramoorthy reveals Izwan is ready to make the step up to a bigger league.

“He’s a talented goalkeeper, he has really grown from a boy to a man. I’ve seen him in Japan where he was great and the Malaysian League (as well). He has made some incredible saves. I think he is ready to move up a level probably to play in the J-League, maybe even the K-League. I think he’ll be good and he will help Singapore football.”


Despite his coach’s compliments, Izwan told UrbanWire that he hasn’t heard anything from foreign clubs as of yet, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of moving in the future. “As a player, of course you would want to be at the very top. It all depends on how disciplined I am, how much passion I have in my work. Any move abroad, I will consider.”


The Other Goalkeeper

Fellow goalkeeper Petr Cech is also in town with Arsenal for their pre-season tour, having just completed a move from arch rivals Chelsea, and Izwan admits that he will ask for tips on how to improve.

“I look up to him when I was young, he was one of the best keepers in the Premier League. Of course, if I get the chance to talk to him about goalkeeping and learn more, and of course at this stage I’m still learning, I want to learn from the best.”

The Singapore Select XI will face an undoubtedly tough test against the team that finished third in the English top division last season. The Gunners conceded only 13 goals in their last 19 Premier League games, and are expected to keep a clean sheet this time round.



Surprise Element

Arsenal head coach Arsene Wenger said at the press conference that he doesn’t know much about the Singaporean team, and perhaps Sundramoorthy’s team can use that to their advantage.

“Honestly I don’t know anything about them up till now,” he admitted. “Usually what you face in Asia is more wide teams, very quick teams, and teams who are very disciplined. So I expect that kind of team (tomorrow).”


Sundramoorthy says his team is prepared for Arsenal’s threat: “We have done our work in training, we will do our best, we know what Arsenal is all about and we are tactically prepared.”

However, the former striker doesn’t want to reveal how he intends to stop them. “That you will see tomorrow, because I don’t want to expose so much on what we’re going to do. Maybe Arsene Wenger will be hearing this speech and then he will prepare his team!” he joked.

We’ll soon find out whether that will spur on Izwan and his teammates. But either way, we are sure to be in for an entertaining game with Sundramoorthy’s usual attacking-minded tactics.


“We’re not going to park the bus. But we will go out there and play entertaining football. But to be clever, to limit the space, not give them the time on the ball, we try to do our best not to concede early – and try to give us a chance to try and win this game. That’s the most important thing.”


The Barclays Asia Trophy kicks off on July 15 starting with Everton vs Stoke City at the National Stadium, with the Third-Place and Final matches being played on the July 18.

Photos courtesy of Ngau Kai Yan