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Back-from-injury Ikhsan Fandi feeling like a footballer again

For most of the last 11 months, Lions striker Ikhsan Fandi did not feel like a footballer in what he has called the biggest challenge of his fledgling career.

On Dec 17, he ruptured his right patella tendon in a home friendly against the Maldives. Since then, he has endured a protracted recovery process and not played a match before this national call-up for the World Cup qualifiers in November.

Ahead of the Nov 21 match against Thailand at the National Stadium, the 24-year-old told The Straits Times: “It feels good to feel like a footballer again. Before this, it was just rehab, strength and conditioning in the gym, so it’s good to be back with the team to prepare for a match and go through all the pre-match routines again.”

While he was motivated to return ahead of schedule, he suffered setbacks on his comeback path. His knee would swell and feel sore after training and he had to redo phases of his rehabilitation.

“The knee would feel good one day but I would be in pain for the next five days, and then the recovery was taking longer and longer, and I started feeling more down when I missed a lot of matches,” said Ikhsan, who plays for Thai club BG Pathum United.

“It’s hard to be in a dressing room when everyone has changed into their boots and I’m still in my sports shoes. And when I’m doing my recovery, I had to drive on my own to a separate facility and do everything by myself.

“It’s tough when I feel I’m not able to contribute and be part of the first team.”

But Ikhsan stayed positive and took a proactive approach, which included hiring a private trainer for the past two months, eating well and even purchasing a gadget to monitor his sleep.

Ikhsan, who has 17 goals in 33 appearances, added that he is at “75 per cent like my old self” and may make a cameo against Thailand.

Without him, the Lions had adapted to score 17 goals in 13 games, but national coach Takayuki Nishigaya acknowledged that the striker’s absence has been felt, and suggested he could be key in ending Singapore’s six-match losing run to the Thais since a 3-1 home win in 2012.

He said: “Having him back creates more opportunities for us. Combining what we have built without him and his presence and finishing up front, I think we are a stronger team now.”

While Ikhsan is fit for selection, both Singapore and Thailand are missing other key players.

Lions defender Irfan Fandi is out with a calf injury sustained in the 5-0 loss in South Korea, while midfielder Shah Shahiran is suspended. Thailand will be without talismanic playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin and defender Pansa Hemviboon who sustained knocks in their 2-1 home defeat by China on Nov 16.

Thailand coach Alexandre Polking felt the upcoming match is a win-or-bust if they are to progress in the World Cup qualifiers, which also double up as Asian Cup qualifiers, with the top two in the group securing a spot in the 2027 Asian Cup.

He added: “We are in the same situation as Singapore... the team that lose two games in a row are probably out of the race (to advance).”

Nishigaya agreed and that given South Korea’s vast superiority, it is a three-way fight among China, Thailand and Singapore to finish second in Group C.

He also addressed an incident in which Irfan copped flak for posting an Instagram story with a pensive emoji during the loss to South Korea after he sustained a recurrence of his calf injury and was replaced in the 46th minute.

While the Japanese admitted that the timing of the post was poor as it was in the middle of a match, he added: “But we need to understand he had just come back from many injuries and got injured again. He must have been feeling upset and maybe his post was a way of coping with the frustration.”

Singapore FootballIkhsan Fandithailand