Football: Ikhsan Fandi relishes new role as Lions' main man upfront

Ikhsan Fandi (second from left) trains at Geylang Lorong 12 on Sept 3, 2019.
Ikhsan Fandi (second from left) trains at Geylang Lorong 12 on Sept 3, 2019.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - At the courtyard of the Oasia Hotel on Monday (Sept 9) morning, Noureddine Ould Ali, the jolly Palestine coach, abruptly ended the conversation he was having with his team officials after he saw a 1.83m figure in red approaching.

"You. You are the No.9 right? The striker?" said the Algerian, pointing a finger.

As Ikhsan Fandi replied with a sheepish "yes", Ali added in jest: "You must sleep tomorrow night. Please. Okay?"

The Palestine coach has done his homework and is well aware Ikhsan is the man to watch when the two teams clash on Tuesday night at the Jalan Besar Stadium in their Group D World Cup qualifier.

Ikhsan, the 20-year-old second son of Lions legend Fandi Ahmad, has been on a tear for the national team, scoring six goals in his last nine international games.

His latest strike came in the 2-2 draw with Yemen as Singapore kicked off their qualifiers last Thursday. The youngster, based in Norway with second-tier Raufoss, also had a hand in Singapore's other goal in that game, after his powerful run and shot forced a save from the Yemeni goalkeeper which fell kindly for Faris Ramli to sweep home.

While he is ice-cool in front of goal, Ikhsan betrayed his youth when facing the press at the pre-game press conference yesterday as he succumbed to jitters and stumbled over his words. But the young footballer eventually regained his composure and said he is embracing the pressure of leading the line for the Lions.

"Yeah it's a big responsibility to be the main striker for Singapore," he said, with a wide smile.

"But I love this job and I love scoring. This is what I do.


"I think I've been doing well and the main thing now is to be more consistent in putting away as many chances as I can."

Palestine are ranked 102nd in the world - 60 places above Singapore - and kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-0 upset over Uzbekistan (ranked 84th) in Ramallah.

But Ali said he was impressed by Singapore's showing against Yemen, where they created plenty of chances against a higher-ranked opponent only to be let down by profligate finishing.

"Singapore are not an easy team to play, they are strong and we see good players in their team," said the coach.

Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida said he was encouraged by his side's performance against a Yemen team ranked 20 places higher, and rattled off his team's statistics from the game - over 600 successful passes, 71 per cent ball possession, and 21 attempts, of which eight were on target - as signs that the team are on the right path.

"But we couldn't get many goals," added the Japanese, who took over in June.

"We must improve these things and must concentrate the full 90 minutes. I expect my boys can do it. I trust and believe my boys will do their best tomorrow."

Yoshida also brushed aside any concerns over his side's weaknesses- the Lions have conceded seven goals in his three games all played in Singapore, the same number as they have scored - and said: "My players are playing very well, so there is no need for changes.

"But they need to be more careful about the offside (trap). We may be open to the counter but we must try to attack."

The message is clear: at home, scoring goals takes priority over stopping them. And that suits the Lions' new main man Ikhsan just fine.