Ikhsan Fandi set for Lions debut
Teenage forward likely to feature in tomorrow's friendly against Hong Kong
Following a swivel of his hips and a lovely dummy, Ikhsan Fandi took the ball round the goalkeeper and tucked the ball into an empty net.
If the 18-year-old forward was feeling nervous on his first senior Lions call-up, he definitely wasn't showing it at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.
The second son of legendary Singapore striker Fandi Ahmad settled in well on his first day with the Lions after his national service commitments earlier in the day, and was seen sharing a laugh with veterans such as Khairul Amri.
Despite having not scored in the S.League after just 362 minutes of action across 10 matches for Home United and the Garena Young Lions, Ikhsan impressed the national selectors enough to earn a national Under-22s call-up for the SEA Games.
He further burnished his reputation by scoring the only goal in a friendly against the India Under-22s, grabbing a brace in a 4-1 AFC Under-23 qualifier victory over Brunei, and another in the 2-0 SEA Games group-stage win against Laos.
Now, the 1.83m-tall attacker stands on the cusp of another milestone.
National coach V Sundramoorthy is likely to hand him a senior debut against Hong Kong tomorrow at Jalan Besar in a friendly to prepare for a crucial Asian Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan at the same venue next Tuesday.
The 51-year-old said: "There is a good chance we will introduce new players like Ikhsan.
"He has got good potential to be a national player in the years to come. We need players like him who have good physical presence in defence and attack.
"In terms of technique and touches, he definitely can still improve, given time."
While he is looking forward to going up against the big boys, Ikhsan agreed with Sundram's assessment.
"At the SEA Games, I think I did all right. I created and had a lot of chances which I didn't convert," he said.
“There is a good chance we will introduce new players like Ikhsan. He has got good potential to be a national player in the years to come.”National coach V Sundramoorthy, on playing Ikhsan in the HK match
"I feel I'm not as sharp as I used to be, but that's something I will have to work on and get back to as I'm still in NS.
"One player cannot make as much of a difference as a team can, so if I do play in the upcoming matches, I just want to learn as much as I can and try to make a contribution."
At 171st, Singapore have slipped to their lowest-ever Fifa ranking, and are currently bottom of Group E in the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers as they struggle for goals, with just seven in 14 games under Sundram.
But he can be encouraged by Ikhsan's emergence, and the return of experienced forwards such as Amri (32 goals in 115 caps), Fazrul Nawaz (11 goals in 84 caps), as well as the younger duo of Sahil Suhaimi (1 goal in 19 caps) and Shawal Anuar (1 goal in 2 caps).
Sundram said: "Obviously, we have missed them and lacked options in our previous games.
"We are playing at home and need a good result to stay on track for qualification.
"We need goals to win games and I hope they will be able to give us that spark we need.
"I have confidence in my players that they will be able to start scoring."
At the back, Warriors defender Emmeric Ong has also earned a first senior call-up after performing well in the S.League.
With Faritz Hameed possibly rested as an injury precaution and Nazrul Nazari pushed into a more advance role, the 26-year-old Ong could start as right wingback in front of a three-man defence against Hong Kong as Sundram is set to take his most adventurous approach yet as national coach.
He said: "Emmeric has done well for the Warriors.
"He has looked physically strong and tactically disciplined and he deserves this chance.
"We will experiment with a few players and systems before we decide which is the best strategy for Turkmenistan."