Ikhsan out of World Cup qualifiers

Striker Ikhsan Fandi, 22, was hoping to share the pitch with brothers Irfan, 23, and Ilhan, 18, while donning national colours.
Striker Ikhsan Fandi, 22, was hoping to share the pitch with brothers Irfan, 23, and Ilhan, 18, while donning national colours.

The Lions will have to find a way to score against Palestine, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia in their upcoming World Cup Group D qualifiers without their leading striker Ikhsan Fandi.

The Football Association of Singapore announced yesterday that the 22-year-old will not be involved in next month's matches in the Saudi capital Riyadh after suffering a pre-season knee injury with his Norwegian second-tier club FK Jerv.

This also means the much-anticipated scenario of local icon Fandi Ahmad's three footballing sons - 23-year-old centre-back Irfan, 18-year-old attacking midfielder Ilhan and Ikhsan - featuring together for the national team for the first time will have to wait.

Ikhsan is in Norway and has not played any of his team's three league games in the new season.

While he has just 18 caps, he has eight international goals, three of which came in this World Cup qualifying campaign in the 2-2 home draw against Yemen, 3-1 home defeat by Uzbekistan and 2-1 away win over Yemen in Bahrain.

His goal ratio is by far the best among the 26 players national coach Tatsuma Yoshida has called up, with only skipper Hariss Harun (10 goals in 101 appearances) and forward Faris Ramli (nine in 56) scoring more.

With the Japanese targeting four points from the three games, he will be hoping his other forwards - Gabriel Quak, Hafiz Nor, Hazzuwan Halim and Shawal Anuar - can step up when called upon.

Yoshida told The Straits Times: "It is unfortunate Ikhsan will not be able to join us for the qualifiers as he is a key player. We are naturally disappointed, but we also respect his decision and have to accept the situation.

"I had considered this scenario while planning and while there might be a change in some strategies, it is important that we still follow our philosophy."

Ikhsan was also saddened not to be able to lead the line for the nation, but vowed to bounce back.

He told ST: "It is also a pity that our collective dream of representing Singapore alongside one another as brothers cannot happen in Saudi now as I'm injured.

"But I believe in the quality of our squad to perform well and secure good results under coach Tatsuma's leadership."

After five games, the Lions are third with seven points behind Saudi Arabia (11 points) and Uzbekistan (nine).

The group winners and the best four runners-up from the eight groups qualify for the Asian Cup and progress to the third round of qualifying for next year's World Cup.

But the remaining teams will still have chances to qualify for the Asian Cup via various other permutations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2021, with the headline 'Ikhsan out of World Cup qualifiers'. Subscribe