Football: Ikhsan opens account for Lions as Fandi begins stint with draw against Mauritius

Football: Ikhsan opens account for Lions as Fandi begins stint with draw against Mauritius

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Ikhsan Fandi and the Singapore national team celebrate after the striker netted an equaliser - his first for the country - against Mauritius on Friday (Sep 7). (Photo: Matthew Mohan)

SINGAPORE: A second-half strike from Ikhsan Fandi ensured his father did not lose his first match in charge as Singapore came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against Mauritius in an international friendly at the Bishan Stadium on Friday (Sep 7).

The visitors took the lead in the fourth minute through Jonathan Justin, before 19-year-old Ikhsan found the net in the 75th minute as the Lions claimed a credible draw.

Fandi Ahmad, who was appointed as the interim coach in May by the Football Association of Singapore, will lead the national team for the 2018 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in November.

Singapore last won the biennial tournament in 2012 and are without a competitive victory in almost three years.

Fandi showed he was not afraid to inject fresh blood into the side, handing debuts to brothers Zulqarnaen and Zulfadhmi Suzliman against a Mauritian team 14 spots above Singapore, who are ranked 169th, in the FIFA rankings. 

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Debutant Zulfadhmi Suzliman gets past his marker during the Singapore versus Mauritius international friendly match on Friday (Sep 7). (Photo: Matthew Mohan)

Despite the Singapore team averaging just 25 years old, a gritty display against a physical Mauritius side pleased Fandi, who lauded his boys’ efforts.

“I thought everybody played very well. I’m just happy that the team is gelling though we’ve only had four to five sessions together,” Fandi said after the game.

“There’s no fear in these boys, we have to have faith and belief that these are the right choice of players.”

The Mauritians weren’t standing on ceremony for the new Lions boss and took the lead after just four minutes. A Jeremy Villeneuve shot was parried by Singapore custodian Izwan Mahbud but Justin, who played for Etoile FC in the S.League in 2011, was on hand to poke home the loose ball.

It took the Lions almost 16 minutes to register their first shot - as Ikhsan forced Kevin Jean-Louis into a save.

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Singapore's Irfan Fandi (middle, in red) challenges for a high ball during the Singapore vs Mauritius international friendly match on Friday (Sep 7) at the Bishan Stadium. (Photo: Matthew Mohan)

Safuwan Baharudin was next to try his luck five minutes later but his dipping volley dropped comfortably into the keeper’s hands. 

Singapore’s best outlet was the nippy Zulfadhmi on the left and he almost got himself on the scoresheet midway through the first half but his shot was saved.

Describing 22-year-old Zulfadhmi’s showing as “superb”, Fandi was keen to stress that he is willing to give young players such as the Tampines Rovers winger a chance to break into the side.

“Everybody has to buck up and be on their toes, because for me, I don’t see age as a barrier,” Fandi explained. “Anybody that comes (into the national set-up), we will give them a chance.”

Francisco Filho’s away side almost doubled Mauritius' lead early in the second half, a fizzing strike from Gary Noel forcing Izwan into a stunning fingertip save as he kept the home side in the game. 

At the other end, the Lions came agonisingly close to an equaliser in the 67th minute, as veteran defender Baihakki Khaizan, on as a substitute, headed narrowly wide.

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Singapore's Ikhsan Fandi (middle, in red) takes on the Mauritius defenders during the Singapore vs Mauritius international friendly match on Friday (Sep 7). (Photo: Matthew Mohan)

It looked like it was going to be another frustrating outing for the Lions, until Ikhsan's intervention.

“I’m happy for him because he made his first start and scored,” said Fandi. “He never started in his four caps (for Singapore) but he scored today which I think gave him a lot of confidence.”

Singapore have three more international friendlies lined up - Fiji next Tuesday (Sep 11), Mongolia (Oct 12) and Cambodia (Oct 16), before heading to a training camp in Japan as preparation for the Suzuki Cup.

Source: CNA/ng(ra)