Ikhsan the star

Ikhsan the star
BIG HUG: Singapore U-16 coach Robin Chitrakar (in white) comforting Ikhsan Fandi, after losing on penalties.
PHOTO: The New Paper

They will play no part in tomorrow's Lion City Cup (LCC) final, after losing to a Liverpool side a year younger but, at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, Singapore's Under-16s could well have written the first paragraph of a special story.

Three goals down at half-time and staring down the barrel of a thumping, Ikhsan Fandi stepped up to a role his father played with distinction all those years ago in the inaugural LCC in 1977, and for various Singapore teams after.

The 16-year-old scored what is known as the perfect hat-trick - one goal with the left foot, another with the right, and completing his treble with a header - all in the space of just 11 second-half minutes to pull his team back on level terms.

Robin Chitrakar's boys may have lost 5-3 on penalties, but this was no one-man team.

With the effervescent Saifullah Akbar, a dependable Elliot Ng in midfield, and a supporting cast that included Idraki Adnan and Alif Iskandar, Singapore could be looking at a special generation.

"Everybody here knows that we played a poor first half, but the boys showed character, and showed that they can play... fighting till the final whistle," said Chitrakar.

"I believe that we have a lot of potential here, there are a lot of good players, and what we need to do is give them good exposure," he added of his charges, many of whom graduated as the first batch of the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) Junior Centre of Excellence Programme launched in 2010.

START YOUNG

It was a programme designed to start nurturing players from the age of seven.

"Ikhsan did well, but it's not just him, the whole team also did well in the second half," added Chitrakar, a former Singapore international.

Liverpool went for the jugular from the first whistle, with Reece McGinley's crisp cut-back from the left wing finding an unmarked Curtis Jones at the top of the box in the third minute, the latter matching it with an equally crisp finish.

Paul Glatzel doubled the visitors' lead in the 19th minute, tucking home off an Elijah Dixon-Bonner pass, as the Singapore defence went to sleep, allowing him an unfettered run into the box.

Singapore duo Saifullah and Ikhsan showed flashes of their much-vaunted potential, but it was Reece who shone brightest, setting up Liverpool's third in the 34th minute.

His peach of a cross after cutting inside from the left wing was met by right back Neco Williams, who ghosted in at the far post.

The second half signalled the start of the Ikhsan show, with Saifullah and Elliot playing superbly in supporting roles.

Ikhsan pulled one back just one minute after the restart, as he went on a 40-metre run into the box before firing a left-footed shot into the far corner.

His second came six minutes later. Set free by a Saifullah pass, Ikhsan scored with his right, then rounded off the scoring with a 57th-minute header, off a deep cross from Saifullah.

"This is just the beginning," said Ikhsan, when asked if his performance was the first step out of his famous father's shadow.

"It's going to get harder and harder, and I have to stay humble, and keep scoring goals... that's my job."

Ikhsan caught the eye of Liverpool coach Nick Marshall, who also gave credit to the "top drawer" second-half performance from Singapore.

"He did very well... clearly a very, very good player, but my interest in him would be greater if he had an EU (European Union) passport," said Marshall, referring to Fifa and English Football Association rules that would make it difficult for Ikhsan to join an English club.

Watching from the stands, a beaming Fandi was pleased with his son's performance.

"He's got skill, speed and finishing, he did well today," said Fandi, who merely laughed when asked if he saw flashes of himself in Ikhsan.

"Just give him the ball, he knows what to do with it."

shamiro@sph.com.sg

 


This article was first published on Aug 15, 2015.
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