Singapore coach Fandi Ahmad believes his decision to opt for youth in his first game in charge of the Lions is vindicated, with his second son Ikhsan Fandi netting his first international goal to earn them a 1-1 draw against Mauritius on Friday night at the Bishan Stadium.
Fandi selected a bold line-up for his first game in charge with an average age of 25 – dishing out debuts to brothers Zulqarnaen Suzliman and Zulfadhmi Suzliman, while starting Ikhsan upfront ahead of the much more experienced Khairul Amri.
There were no players above 30 in the starting eleven, with the likes of Hassan Sunny, Baihakki Khaizan, Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri all only introduced at certain stages of the second half.
“For me, age is not a barrier,” explained Fandi at the post-match press conference. “Everybody has to buck up and be on their toes to be in the starting eleven.
“You can see the few boys really went for it until one of them (Zulqarnaen) had cramps – he had a superb game and managed to go toe-to-toe against their very fast left winger. We have to give opportunities to these youngsters and this is great for our football to have these options.
“They were initially a bit shy when they just came into the team, so we spoke to them individually to make them feel comfortable. They showed in the game that they have no fear and we have faith that we made the right choice.”
Fandi was, of course, pleased to see Ikhsan scoring his first international goal, but also lauded the efforts of veteran Shahril who changed the game for the Lions in the second half.
“I’m happy for him… He never started in his previous four caps and this goal will give him much confidence going forward,” he said.
“For Shahril… It was always the plan to bring in the experienced players in the second half and we know what he can do. He can’t last 90 minutes at this high level but he can play 30 to 40 minutes. He could have taken the shot himself, but he was unselfish to set up Ikhsan to score.”
Singapore’s youthful exuberance in the match also impressed Mauritius coach Francisco Filho, who sang high praises of Fandi and Ikhsan.
“This game was a massive challenge for us. Singapore created so many chances and deserved to win, but football is like that sometimes,” said the former Manchester United youth coach.
“They played very well with their passing game and positioning. I told Fandi he must continue the work and he’s the right person for this big job – it’s made for him. His son (Ikhsan) had one chance and he scored. It’s good publicity for the future of Singapore football.”
Singapore will face Fiji in another friendly at Bishan Stadium next Tuesday, with Fandi hoping that he can get his maiden win as Lions tamer.