Ikhsan laps up main man tag

Ikhsan Fandi on the ball during training ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Palestine. The striker is relishing the opportunity of shouldering Singapore's scoring responsibilities at the tender age of 20.
Ikhsan Fandi on the ball during training ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Palestine. The striker is relishing the opportunity of shouldering Singapore's scoring responsibilities at the tender age of 20.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Striker, 20, is raring to rise to the challenge of leading the Lions' attack against Palestine

Noureddine Ould Ali, the jolly Palestine coach, was standing at the courtyard of the Oasia Hotel yesterday morning when he abruptly ended the conversation with his team officials after he saw a 1.83m figure in red approaching.

"You. You are the No.9 right? The striker?" asked the Algerian.

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

The coach has done his homework and is well aware Ikhsan is the man to watch when the two teams clash tonight 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 striker, based in Norway with second-tier Raufoss, also had a hand in Singapore's equalising second goal in that game, after his powerful run and shot forced a save from the Yemeni goalkeeper, falling kindly for Faris Ramli to sweep home.

While he is ice-cool in front of goal, Ikhsan revealed his youth when facing the press at the pre-game press conference yesterday as he succumbed to jitters and stumbled over his words.

  • 6

    Goals scored by Ikhsan Fandi in his last nine international matches for Singapore.

    8

    Shots on target, from 21 attempts, by Singapore in their opening Group D World Cup qualifier against Yemen last Thursday.

But the striker eventually regained his composure and said he is relishing the pressure that comes with 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 of Uzbekistan (ranked 84th) in Ramallah.

But Ali said he was impressed by Singapore's showing against Yemen, against whom 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 showing 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 defending - the Lions have conceded seven goals in three games 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' main man Ikhsan just fine.

SINGAPORE V PALESTINE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2019, with the headline 'Ikhsan laps up main man tag'. Print Edition | Subscribe