Football: Saifullah Akbar, Ikhsan Fandi keen to show calibre at Lion City Cup

Saifullah Akbar (left) and Ikhsan Fandi will play for the National Football Academy U-16s against the Liverpool U-15s in the Lion City Cup tonight.
Saifullah Akbar (left) and Ikhsan Fandi will play for the National Football Academy U-16s against the Liverpool U-15s in the Lion City Cup tonight.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Their names have been bandied about as the future stars of local football over the last few years but Saifullah Akbar and Ikhsan Fandi have not had the chance to show the public what they were made of.

Tonight, however, the duo will finally be able to strut their stuff in front of a crowd.

Saifullah and Ikhsan will lace up their boots for the National Football Academy (NFA) Under-16s in their 8.45pm match against the Liverpool U-15s at the 26th Lion City Cup held at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Saifullah, 16, was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year when it emerged that A-League club Newcastle Jets were in talks to sign the attacking midfielder after a successful trial in Australia.

Saifullah trained with the Jets' U-18 team after he was deemed as being "too good" for the U-16s.

But the move eventually broke down after Fifa rules stipulated that the player could not be registered to play for the team as his parents were required to be living and working in non-football related industries in Australia.

"Of course I was disappointed to have missed out on the move but that was a great experience for me and I must say I learnt a lot," said Saifullah.

"This is an opportunity on home soil to show everyone what I am capable of. I want to do my best to help the team reach the final if possible."

At the first Lion City Cup in 1977, Fandi Ahmad held aloft the trophy after the then 16-year-old inspired a Singapore side to a 5-0 win over Pahang in the final at the National Stadium.

Now in its 26th edition, the tournament will see Fandi's second son, Ikhsan, make his debut.

The 16-year-old will play up front for the NFA U-16s and he is eager to display his ability and replicate the feats of older brother Irfan, who scored in the 1-2 loss to the Arsenal U-15s in the 2012 edition.

"I have waited a long time to play in front of a Singaporean crowd," said Ikhsan, who will return to Chilean top-flight side Universidad Catolica after the competition.

"I really want to get on the scoresheet and prove to everyone that I can play well."

NFA U-16 coach Robin Chitrakar is hopeful of a good performance from his side.

He said: "The players are all very eager and it is a great test to play against Liverpool. Saifullah and Ikhsan are players with great quality and lots of potential and I hope all my players enjoy the occasion."

In today's other match at 6pm, the Singapore U-15 team will play against Tottenham Hotspurs' U-16s.

Deepanraj Ganesan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2015, with the headline 'Saifullah, Ikhsan keen to show calibre'. Subscribe