National Team - Lions ● Sep 07, 2018

Ikhsan nets first Singapore goal, Shahril stars in comeback draw against Mauritius

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SINGAPORE, 7 SEP 2018
– A superb performance off the bench from Shahril Ishak helped Singapore earn a 1-1 draw against Mauritius on Friday night at Bishan Stadium.

The 34-year-old showed his class after coming on as a half-time substitute by completely transforming the Lions’ attack and he set up Ikhsan Fandi to score the equaliser with a splendid assist.

That 74th-minute goal cancelled out Jonathan Justin’s fourth-minute opener for the 155th-ranked visitors, who were arguably fortunate to escape defeat in a game that Fandi Ahmad’s charges, ranked 14 spots lower, dominated.

“We can play football,” the 56-year-old declared afterward. “We fought very hard, created chance after chance… the flow (of play) was on the ground and I am just happy for the boys – we could have won. There’s no fear in these boys.”

That was acknowledged by his counterpart Francisco Filho, who said: “Singapore had many chances to score… they played very well, had a passing game and I told Fandi they must continue this work; he is the right person for this big job, he is made for it.”

Taking charge of his first international as Head Coach, Fandi surprised many by fielding a line-up that included debutants Zulqarnaen Suzliman at right-back and his elder brother, Zulfadhmi (pictured above), at left wing. Safuwan Baharudin, so often deployed as a midfielder in the past, was partnered in central defence by Irfan Fandi.

Ikhsan Fandi led the line in his first start for Singapore, gaining his fifth cap in the process, which also meant that two pairs of brothers started in the same team for the first time ever in the Lions’ history.

Understandably, the new-look side – averaging 25 years – took a while to get going and they were caught cold when Jeremy Villeneuve’s snapshot was spilled by Izwan Mahbud – who last played for Singapore in June 2017 – and Jonathan Justin, who played a season for Etoile FC in the S.League, reacted quickest to tap in the rebound.

But it was all Singapore thereafter as Ikhsan, Safuwan and Zulfadhmi all worked goalkeeper Kevin Jean-Louis, though Gary Noel’s skied effort from ten yards left the Lions relieved.

Izwan was at his athletic best when called upon to tip Noel’s fierce angled drive on 49 minutes, but it was soon one-way traffic again.

Substitute Baihakki Khaizan, who stood strong at the back with Safuwan, glanced Yasir Hanapi’s cross wide before the Mauritians’ resistance was finally broken.

Captain Hariss Harun pinged a superb ball over the top for Ikhsan, who smartly chested the ball to the advancing Shahril. Taking it in his stride before advancing into the area, everyone expected the 135-cap veteran to pull the trigger – only for him to leave Jean-Louis and a defender on the ground with a simple shimmy before teeing up Ikhsan to tap in his first Singapore goal.

Khairul Amri then saw a snapshot well saved and despite failing to get the winner, Fandi was pleased with how the team had played.

“They were motivated and had a good crowd supporting them,” he said. “I thought everyone played very well and I am just happy the team is gelling very well, even though we only had four or five training sessions.

“The seniors have made the younger ones feel comfortable and it showed in the game; we have faith and belief in this team.

“We (do) need to tighten up in midfield; it takes time (but) hopefully we can make them a stronger unit. Hariss and Izzdin (Shafiq) were superb in controlling the ball and we had good pace on the left, right and upfront. There are good signs, we can go forward in numbers; when we attack, we (always) have two or three players upfront.

“I think we did the right thing, we want to go forward and we want to score goals. We hope the fans were well entertained.”

The Lions go again next Tuesday, 11 September against Fiji at Bishan Stadium in their final friendly of this international window.

Singapore: Izwan Mahbud (GK) (Hassan Sunny 70′), Zulqarnaen Suzliman (Faritz Hameed 65′), Irfan Fandi (Baihakki Khaizan 60′), Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Nazrul Nazari (Shahril Ishak 46′), Izzdin Shafiq (M. Anumanthan 62′), Hariss Harun (C), Zulfadhmi Suzliman, Yasir Hanapi, Ikhsan Fandi (Khairul Amri 75′).
Unused subs: Zaiful Nizam (GK), Ho Wai Loon, Zulfahmi Arifin, Shahdan Sulaiman, Gabriel Quak, Jacob Mahler, Hami Syahin, Khairul Nizam, Iqbal Hussain.