Lions hungry for post-raya victory

The Fandi brothers are back in town to play in this weekend's Merlion Cup. The Straits Times caught up with them on their experience playing overseas, what it's like to play in a team where the coach is their father, and their strangest fan requests.
The Singapore Under-22 players limbering up during a training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday for the Merlion Cup match against the Philippines. The session was a closed-door affair after the first 15 minutes.
The Singapore Under-22 players limbering up during a training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday for the Merlion Cup match against the Philippines. The session was a closed-door affair after the first 15 minutes.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Ikhsan is jet-lagged but Fandi won't abandon attacking tactic in tonight's Merlion opener

Singapore Under-22 striker Ikhsan Fandi is jet-lagged, having arrived from Norway on Tuesday and spending the following day celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri with his family.

But he will again shoulder much of the scoring burden when the side take on the Philippines in the Merlion Cup at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.

His father, Fandi Ahmad, who is also the national U-22 coach, has promised to stick to the usual attacking ethos.

"I'm confident in tomorrow's game but the main problem is scoring goals," the 57-year-old said at a media conference at the Copthorne King's Hotel yesterday.

"We need composure in front of goal. I hope he (Ikhsan) carries on his form but he has just arrived, he hasn't had a session with us before and he's jet-lagged.

"Yesterday there were celebrations the entire day until the evening and I think I saw him collapse at the end of the day, so he needs a good rest. We have some restrictions on him but we will manage.

"I'm sure we will attack and my style is that I like to attack. We always play good high-pressing games.

"I think the boys are ready and hopefully, they will do another good showing like in the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers. We're looking forward to this."

Singapore were undefeated and scored five goals in their three qualifying matches in March, although they failed to make the tournament proper.

Ikhsan, who has netted four goals in 11 games for Norwegian second-tier club Raufoss this season, told The Straits Times that he will try to replicate his club form for the national side, but "everybody has to play their part" if they are to earn a place in Sunday's final against either Thailand or Indonesia.

The 20-year-old is expecting new team members like Balestier Khalsa's Daniel Goh and Zikos Chua from Geylang International to step up in the tournament.

Ikhsan said: "We have new players now so I think they will bring something new to the team... some new players who might show themselves during this tournament.

"Who knows, they might play a very big part for us."

Zikos, 17, having made his competitive debut for Geylang last year, is eager to make an impression in his first U-22 outing.

"I think they've selected us (youngsters) for a reason and we hope we can try and replicate the good things we've showcased for our clubs and hopefully bring it to the team and try to give our 100 per cent," said Zikos, who has impressed with his aerial presence and link-up play.

"I'm definitely looking forward to the tournament, I think it's going to be a good experience."

While Fandi acknowledged that Thailand and Indonesia have brought under-strength teams for the tournament, he believes the matches will benefit his side's preparations for the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines.

"At the end of the day, the SEA Games is our target and we want to do well. This tournament is the stepping stone for the boys to push the level higher," he said.

While he joked that most of his players may be "3kg up" after the Aidilfitri festivities, he added: "We'll be fine. We'll give a good fight and a good show. I just hope the fans will come, put their celebrations aside to come and support the U-22 boys, give them more motivation and confidence.

"Hopefully, the real lions (the fans) will come and roar for us."

 • Merlion Cup tickets are available at the stadium or online via fas.org.sg/tickets


SINGAPORE V PHILIPPINES

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2019, with the headline 'Lions hungry for post-Raya victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe