Cloud over Lions’ AFF campaign as chief striker Ikhsan suffers knee injury
With just a week to go till Singapore’s Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship Group B opener against Myanmar on Dec 24, a cloud has appeared over the Lions’ campaign after chief striker Ikhsan Fandi injured his right knee in Saturday’s 3-1 friendly win over the Maldives.
The BG Pathum attacker hurt himself in the 38th minute during a Lions foray into the Maldives’ penalty box. While the 23-year-old managed to limp off the Jalan Besar pitch, he cut an exasperated figure while being treated and smashed a plastic bottle into the billboard before being stretchered off.
If Ikhsan does not recover in time, world No. 160 Singapore will be without one of Asean’s top marksmen and their most prolific striker, who has scored 17 goals in 33 international appearances.
Unfortunately for the hosts, midfielder Adam Swandi joined Ikhsan on the injury list, with both taken to hospital to ascertain the extent of their injuries.
But in terms of striking options, all may not be lost as Ikhsan’s younger brother Ilhan Fandi opened his international account against the 154th-ranked side on only his fifth cap. The 20-year-old turned Ahmed Numaan and left the defender for dead before passing to Ikhsan, who, despite being tripped by Hussain Sifaau Yoosuf, did well to play on and spread play to the left flank.
Wing-back Christopher van Huizen then put in a tantalising first-time cross which eluded Ikhsan but not Ilhan, who headed into the corner to open the scoring in the fifth minute.
After an encouraging showing, and a 20-goal domestic season with Albirex Niigata and Young Lions before signing for Belgium’s KMSK Deinze, Ilhan did his chances of starting against Myanmar no harm.
Up until Ikhsan got injured, the brothers showed good chemistry, pace and strength despite the visitors’ roughhouse tactics.
Post-match, Singapore coach Takayuki Nishigaya said: “Ikhsan and Ilhan are telepathic and we are disappointed with the injury, but I’m proud of how we played as a team until the end and the accidents didn’t affect our concentration. We will assess Ikhsan and Adam’s conditions, but we have good players in our team. I’m happy with their commitment and effort.”
Nishigaya will also be casting a nervous eye on his defence, which allowed Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain to equalise from a header off Hamza Mohamed’s 17th-minute corner.
The Maldives almost took the lead when Hassan Raif Ahmed’s left-footed shot came off the bar in the 43rd minute, although in the end Singapore defended stoutly to claim victory.
Nishigaya said: “Yes, we do need to improve in defending set-pieces, but I thought otherwise, the defence did great today.”
The Japanese, 49, was generally spot-on with his substitutions as the reserves showed hunger and encouraging attacking combinations, as Song Ui-young crossed for Shawal Anuar to make it 2-1 to the hosts with a 50th-minute header.
Wing-back Ryhan Stewart was also enterprising on the right to earn a few corner opportunities, before crossing beautifully for Shawal to sidefoot in his fourth international goal in 21 appearances and seal the win.
Shawal said: “The coach believes in everyone in the team and has instilled a winning mentality in us but we hope nothing serious happens to Ikhsan and Adam because they are crucial players for us.”
This was the Lions’ final friendly match before their AFF Championship opener. Nishigaya, who had run the rule over 30 players during their Dec 1-12 training camp in Japan, is expected to announce a final 23-man squad for the tournament on Monday.