Football: Positive start by Fandi Ahmad's Lions

Singapore's players mob scorer Ikhsan Fandi (second from right) and the creator of his goal Shahril Ishak (centre) after the Lions' equaliser earned coach Fandi Ahmad a draw in his first match in charge.
Singapore's players mob scorer Ikhsan Fandi (second from right) and the creator of his goal Shahril Ishak (centre) after the Lions' equaliser earned coach Fandi Ahmad a draw in his first match in charge.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

They show courage and commitment in Fandi's first outing as interim national coach


Singapore 1

Mauritius 1

As far as first impressions go, the Lions are not just showing signs of climbing out of the doldrums, they are going to do it with courage, energy and grit.

Yesterday's 1-1 international friendly draw against Mauritius may not be the most stunning football result in the world but, on a greasy Bishan Stadium pitch, Fandi Ahmad's team - a blend of youth and experience - put up a positive display and stuck by their attacking tactics.

Although Singapore lacked a sharp cutting edge and needed more creativity, there was no shortage of hard running and fierce tackles, which earned the much-maligned Lions, ranked 169th in the world, warm applause from the 3,000-strong crowd.

Fandi, appointed interim national coach in May, said: "I'm very happy that there is a good crowd. We can play football, we created chances, we dominated possession and although we need to tighten our midfield and control the ball, this will take time.

"We did not want to lose, we wanted this very badly. At the end of the day, we did the right thing because we played football and we wanted to score goals."

Singapore's performance also earned the praise of Mauritius coach Francisco Filho Joaquim, who said: "Singapore created many chances. They could have had two or three more goals. They deserved to win but football's like that.

"Singapore had more possession and they played their passing game very well. I told Fandi that he must continue his good job."

As a national player, Fandi transmitted calm and confidence to fans through his consistent supply of goals for the country. As the Lions' coach, he sent a strong message on his debut by picking two pairs of young brothers - Zulfadhmi (22 years old) and Zulqarnaen Suzliman (20), as well as his own sons Irfan (21) and Ikhsan (19) Fandi.

He explained: "We have to buck up. To me, age is not a barrier. I'm just happy the young players worked so hard, one of them ran so hard that he had cramps. This is great.

"Zulfadhmi played superbly, Shakir (Hamzah) had a tremendous game. I hope the players can start to grow from this experience."

However, it was a pacy and powerful Mauritius side that opened the scoring in the fifth minute when striker Justin Jonathan was left unmarked to sweep home after goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud parried Jeremy Villeneuve's initial shot.

Fandi reacted by sending on veterans Shahril Ishak, Khairul Amri and Baihakki Khaizan after the break and it was Shahril who kept his cool to feint past his marker before squaring for the onrushing Ikhsan to score his first international goal after five caps with 16 minutes remaining.

Fandi praised the 34-year-old veteran: "Shahril is Shahril. He might not start but I sent him on for something. His touches are fantastic, he could have taken that shot but he passed to Ikhsan."

And with Singapore slated to meet Fiji on Tuesday for another friendly at Bishan, the coach wants more from his rejuvenated players.

"At the beginning of training, these youngsters were a bit shy," he said. "But these boys proved today that they have no fear."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2018, with the headline 'Positive start by Lions'. Print Edition | Subscribe