Football: Fandi Ahmad hails Lions' fighting spirit in 2-1 friendly win over Cambodia

The team have won three and drew one under interim national coach Fandi Ahmad as they head into next month's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
The team have won three and drew one under interim national coach Fandi Ahmad as they head into next month's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/FOOTBALL FEDERATION OF CAMBODIA

SINGAPORE - If Fandi Ahmad's approach for the national football team could be summarised, it would be encapsulated in a piece of action in the 74th minute of the 2-1 friendly win over Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Tuesday (Oct 16).

There was no danger for the Angkor Warriors as centre-back Hong Pheng attempted to shepherd a long punt back to goalkeeper Um Vichet. But the lurking Ikhsan Fandi pounced, pressed and profited to score the winning goal for the Lions.

The victory was their third in four matches under interim national football coach Fandi, after 2-0 wins over Fiji and Mongolia and a 1-1 draw with Mauritius in his first game in charge last month.

Tuesday's triumph marked the first time since 2015 that Singapore have won three matches on the trot (beating Bangladesh 2-1, Brunei 5-1 and Cambodia 4-0 then).

It was also the Lions' first away win in 13 attempts since a 1-0 victory over Myanmar in Yangon in the invitational tournament AYA Bank Cup in 2016.

Speaking to The Straits Times after the game in Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium, Fandi revealed: "Ikhsan came to me and said he needed more balls played to him.

"But I told him he has to keep asking his teammates to pass to him, or else he has to make things happen himself.

"Later, he wanted to be taken off because he was cramping up, but I told him, 'Don't come off until you have scored'. I'm just happy that he kept trying and he has that ambition to score."

Prior to Fandi's appointment, the Lions, now 166th in Fifa's world rankings, had gone three years without a competitive win and saw regional rivals overtake them.

But the team have shown signs of recovery under the 56-year-old, whose appointment will end after November's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup campaign.

Singapore face defending champions Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste in Group B.

While Fandi could do little to improve the players' technique given that he was appointed in May, what he managed to do in five months was to stir up their fighting spirit.

The Lions got off to a poor start against Cambodia when a cross from left-back Sath Rosib was deflected into the net for an unfortunate own goal from left-back Ho Wai Loon in the 17th minute.

Things looked dismal as Singapore failed to register a shot on target in the first half.

But, with the introduction of attacking midfielder Adam Swandi and defensive midfielder Jacob Mahler, and moving midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin to left-back, they fought their way back.

Jacob, 18, who made his international debut against Fiji, equalised in the 61st minute with a close-range finish for his first Singapore goal after the hosts were unable to clear Zulfahmi's free kick.

Ikhsan then completed the Lions' comeback with just over 15 minutes remaining, when he dispossessed Hong before poking the ball past goalkeeper Vichet for his third international strike.

Fandi said: "I'm very happy with Jacob, he was very determined to win every tackle, he pressed the opponent well with (midfielder Izzdin Shafiq) and his hard work paid off with that goal.

"There was no need for angry words at half-time. I just told the boys to focus and keep pushing forward.

"We have a good team spirit to see us through, these boys have determination and, even right till the end, they never stopped fighting."