Football: Fandi Ahmad's Under-22s aim to shine in Merlion Cup despite Hari Raya festivities

The Fandi brothers are back in town to play in this weekend's Merlion Cup. The Straits Times caught up with them on their experience playing overseas, what it's like to play in a team where the coach is their father, and their strangest fan requests.
Singapore's Under-22 side will take on the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium on June 7, 2019.
Singapore's Under-22 side will take on the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium on June 7, 2019.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Their chief striker Ikhsan Fandi is jet lagged, having arrived from Norway on Tuesday (June 4) and having spent the following day celebrating Hari Raya with his family.

While Fandi Ahmad acknowledged on Thursday that goals may be a problem at the June 7-9 Merlion Cup, the former national striker promised to stick to his attacking football ethos as his Under-22 side take on the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday.

"I'm confident in tomorrow's game but the main problem is scoring goals," the 57-year-old said at the pre-tournament media conference at the Copthorne King's Hotel on Thursday. "We need composure in front of the goal. I hope he (Ikhsan) carries on his form but he just arrived, he hasn't had a session with us before and he's jet lagged.

"Yesterday there were celebrations the entire day until the evening and I think I saw him collapse at the end of the day so he needs a good rest. We have some restrictions on him but we will manage.

"I'm sure we will attack and my style is that I like to attack. We always play good high-pressing games. I think the boys are ready and hopefully, they will do another good showing like in the AFC Under-23 tournament qualifiers. We're looking forward to this."

Singapore were undefeated in three Asian Football Confederation U-23 qualifiers in March and scored five goals in the process, although they failed to make the tournament proper in January 2020.

Ikhsan, who has netted four goals in 11 games for Norwegian second-tier club Raufoss this season, told The Straits Times that he will try to replicate his club form for the national side, but "everybody has to play their part" if they were to beat Philippines to earn a place in Sunday's final against Thailand or Indonesia.

The 20-year-old pointed to the likes of Balestier Khalsa's Daniel Goh and Geylang International's Zikos Chua, and said: "We have new players now so I think they will bring something new to the team... some new players who might show themselves during this tournament.

 

"Who knows, they might play a very big part for us."

Zikos, 17, is eager to make an impression in his first outing for the U-22s, having made his competitive debut for Geylang last year.

"I think they've selected us (youngsters) for a reason and we hope we can try and replicate the good things we've showcased in our clubs and hopefully bring it to the team and try to give our 100 per cent," said Zikos, who pointed to his aerial presence and link-up play as strengths.

"I'm definitely looking forward to the tournament, I think it's going to be a good experience."

While Fandi acknowledged that Thailand and Indonesia have both fielded under-strength teams for this tournament, he believes the competition is beneficial to his side's preparations for the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines.

"At the end of the day, the SEA Games is our target and we want to do well. This tournament is the stepping stone for the boys to push the level higher," he said.

While he joked that his players may be "3kg up" after the Hari Raya festivities, he added: "We'll be fine. We'll give a good fight and a good show. I just hope the fans will come, put their Hari Raya celebrations aside to come and support the U-22 boys, give them more motivation and confidence.

"Hopefully, the real lions (the fans) will come and roar for us."

* Merlion Cup tickets are available at the stadium or online via www.fas.org.sg/tickets