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 By Kelvin Leong

Singapore's Izwan Mahbud sees Japan tour as Thailand gauge for Suzuki Cup

Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud vs. Japan
Izwan kept a clean sheet against the superstars of Japan in an AFC World Cup qualifier last June.

Singapore's upcoming tour of Japan will be a good gauge for the Lions as they step up preparations for November's AFF Suzuki Cup, according to Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.

Coach V. Sundramoorthy will take his squad to Japan from July 17 to 25 where they will play J-League club Albirex Niigata, a college team made up of Albirex reserves and a local Japanese university side.

Izwan, 25, is no stranger to Japanese football, having gone on a trial with J2 club Matsumoto Yamaga FC last November when he fell short of becoming the first Singaporean to ply his trade in Japan.

However, the former LionsXII keeper joined S.League giants Tampines Rovers as he continues to rival Thailand's Army United star Hassan Sunny for the right to don the starting gloves for Singapore.

This trip was specially arranged by Sundram and his backroom staff to aid the Lions' bid to record a fifth Suzuki Cup title and Izwan believes it is a smart move by his national manager.

"Japanese teams are all the same in the way they play the game," he told ESPN FC. "They are technically very good and play a passing game.

"The style is similar to some of the Southeast Asian teams we will face at the Suzuki Cup, especially Thailand.

"It is still early days from the Suzuki Cup so this is more or less experimenting time for coach Sundram. But knowing him, this tour will be a test for us players and for him to find the right mix of youth and experience.

Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud
Izwan Mahbud is no stranger to Japan, having been on trial with a J2 club last November.

While Sundram continues to develop his winning formula for the Suzuki Cup, one department where 'The Dazzler' -- his nickname from his playing days -- has no shortage of quality is goalkeeping.

Hassan has been one of the Premier League of Thailand's standout performers for the two seasons while Izwan is rated as one of the region's top custodians. Behind them, the likes of Balestier Khalsa's Zaiful Nizam and Geylang International's Syazwan Buhari are jostling to be the third-choice in Sundram's squad.

Izwan is loving the friendly rivalry which pushes Hassan and himself to keep their standards up in order to do the country proud.

"This year I have had a couple of injuries but hopefully I can stay healthy for the remainder of the year," Izwan said.

"When it comes to challenging Hassan for the No. 1 spot, it is really up to the coach.

"Between Hassan and me, we will keep helping each other but also try and win that starting spot of course.

"At the end of the day, whoever gets chosen is playing for Singapore's pride and glory, so it is about backing each other and getting the end result that matters."

Singapore will conclude their Japan tour on July 25 before flying out to Phnom Penh where they take on Cambodia in an international friendly three days later.

ESPN FC editor Kelvin Leong is a former media officer for Singapore and ex-regional editor of ESPNSTAR.com. Twitter: @KelvinLeong29.

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