Football: Ikhsan Fandi, Singapore's latest showman

Ikhsan Fandi celebrating after scoring a goal against Malaysia during their friendly match on March 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - He stood before the faithful in the National Stadium, red jersey in hand, dancing and swinging his arms as they roared at his every wave, creating a din not heard in local football in recent years.

He had the fans eating out of his hand, but Ikhsan Fandi maintains that the moment "just came spontaneously".

The BG Pathum striker, who had scored a brace in the Lions' 2-1 win over old foes Malaysia on Saturday (March 26), said: "I was feeling hyped after the win and looking at all the fans who came for the game, I just wanted to engage with them for a bit. I'm sure they enjoyed the win as much as we did."

It is not just the fans who are enjoying his football. Ikhsan, with 13 goals in 26 caps, is relishing his time on the pitch too and well on his way to becoming Asean's next top striker. Against Malaysia, he gleefully swept home Song Ui-young's cross to open the scoring, before cutting past three defenders to score the winner.

On Tuesday (March 29), he will attempt to add to his tally in the friendly against the Philippines at Kallang again.

National interim coach Nazri Nasir remarked: "It's been a while since we had a genuine No. 9, and if he keeps improving, I believe he can overtake his father."

His father is Singapore icon Fandi Ahmad, whose national record stands at 55 goals in 101 caps (see below), but Ikhsan is not fussed by the comparison.

With a laugh, he said: "My father has passed down some of that goal-scoring instinct and I hope I'm making him proud.

"It's always an honour to lead the lines for Singapore. The team and coaches have put big responsibilities on me but I don't feel pressured. I'll happily carry out my duties as best as I can."

But what makes the 1.83-metre hitman such a threat?

Former Singapore defender R. Sasikumar, who took Ikhsan and his older brother Irfan to Italy (AC Milan) and Spain (Valencia and Hercules) before they were teenagers, felt that a solid grounding from an early age helped.

He added: "They trained and played in Europe and later on in Chile and it's good to see them take that experience to the international level now. Ikhsan has height, physicality, good touches and can score with both legs and his head, which are all signs of a good No. 9, and he creates his own scoring opportunities as well.

"A genuine goal threat like him lifts the team. Now, his team-mates have a focal point and someone who scores from half chances to look to. We just need to make sure he gets enough support."

Lion City Sailors' Song agreed, and added: "His connection and understanding with me is perfect, and it's the same for many others. Football is about scoring goals and if we have someone like Ikhsan to finish off the chances, it helps us win more games."

Currently, there is no Asean player with more than 10 international goals who has a better scoring ratio than Ikhsan's one goal in every two games. Only Malaysia's Safawi Rashid (15 goals in 37 caps) and Thailand's Teerasil Dangda (51 in 111) and Adisak Kraison (18 in 44) have scored more.

But Safawi, 25, is a wide forward, while the Thais are in their 30s, which leaves Ikhsan, who turns 23 on April 9, with a clear shot at becoming a regional great.

He said: "There is more to come from me. I'm still growing as a player and I have big goals to play and score consistently, and I'm going to work hard to improve so I can reach those goals."

Making things worse for opponents is how there is not just one Fandi offspring to worry about, but three. In Saturday's Causeway Derby, Ikhsan teamed up with striker-turned-defender Irfan, 24, and forward Ilhan, 19, bringing back memories of when the Quah brothers Kim Song, Kim Swee and Kim Lye played together for Singapore in the 1970s.

Irfan, who has 37 caps, said: "It's always been our dream to play together for the national team. It is a great honour, and the most important thing was we won. To do so and win in a Causeway Derby made it greater and more special for us."

Ilhan, who collected his second cap on Saturday and celebrated alongside Ikhsan with the Griddy dance after his brother's match winner, added: "Hopefully, one day we can all score in the same match. It's not going to be easy, but most importantly, we can help Singapore win more matches and move up the rankings."

Asean's current top forwards (selected)

Ikhsan Fandi, 22 (Singapore): 13 goals in 26 caps

Teerasil Dangda, 33 (Thailand): 51 goals in 111 caps

Adisak Kraisorn, 31 (Thailand): 18 goals in 44 caps

Safawi Rashid, 25 (Malaysia): 15 goals in 37 caps

Angel Guirado, 37 (Philippines): 13 goals in 46 caps

Nguyen Tien Linh, 24 (Vietnam): 12 goals in 30 caps

Patrick Reichelt, 33 (Philippines): 12 goals in 69 caps

Nguyen Cong Phuong, 27 (Vietnam): 11 goals in 50 caps

Irfan Jaya, 25 (Indonesia): 6 goals in 18 caps

Singapore's former top forwards (selected)

Fandi Ahmad (1979-1997): 55 goals in 101 caps

Noh Alam Shah (2001-2010): 35 goals in 80 caps

Khairul Amri (2004-2019): 32 goals in 132 caps

Indra Sahdan (1997-2013): 31 goals in 113 caps

Aleksandar Duric (2007-2012): 24 goals in 53 caps

V. Sundram Moorthy (1983-1995): 20 goals in 48 caps

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