News Singapore Premier League • July 3, 2018
A year on from derby heroics, Ifwat Ismail determined to scale new heights
The striker netted a hat-trick for his first professional goals and wants more of such moments
Ifwat Ismail surging down the flank for Young Lions this season.
SINGAPORE, 3 JULY 2018 – Cristiano Ronaldo running Bolton Wanderers ragged on his Manchester United debut. Wayne Rooney ending Arsenal’s 30-game unbeaten league run with a last-minute screamer for Everton. More recently, Kylian Mbappe’s rinsing of Argentina in France’s 4-3 win in the World Cup.
There are moments in certain players’ careers when they announce themselves to the world. For Ifwat Ismail, that came in July last year.
On as a half-time substitute for Geylang International FC in their League Cup tie against Tampines Rovers FC, the then 19-year-old’s life would change completely by the time the final whistle blew.
The striker broke the deadlock with a cool finish for his first ever professional goal in the 53rd minute and remarkably, bagged two more in the following 32 minutes to lead the Eagles to a thumping 4-1 derby win.
That the treble was a perfect one – right foot, left foot and header – made Ifwat’s feat more stunning and it was hardly surprising to see him make the headlines the following day.
“I can still remember that day as if it was yesterday,” he told the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) website. “To score a hat-trick in an Eastern Derby and bring home the match ball – the feeling was unreal.”
The moment felt especially surreal as Ifwat’s competitive football journey nearly ended before it began just one and a half years prior.
Having spent two seasons with Balestier Khalsa FC’s youth teams, he was not selected for their Prime League side following a trial.
“It was heart-breaking as I thought that was the end of me playing football, without even getting the opportunity to fight and play in the Prime League,” Ifwat recalled.
But salvation came in the form of his former club Geylang, where he had spent 2013 playing for the U16s. Successfully making it through their Prime League trials, Ifwat impressed enough to make his first-team breakthrough later that year.
“I came into the changing room and saw my name on the starting eleven (board) and I felt super nervous, so much so that my team-mates joked that they could see the nerves show on my face!” he recalled of his professional debut in a League Cup tie against Balestier – as fate would have it – in 2016.
Ifwat is inspired by his mother’s strength to excel in everything he does.
Ifwat’s journey to that fateful moment against Tampines in Jurong West Stadium was not without speed bumps.
Having failed to make much of an impression on his debut, first-team chances were few and far between after that and he was even benched for “a number” of Prime League games in the early 2017.
But that only drove the teenager to work harder and he eventually regained his coaches’ trust and featured regularly again in the Prime League, before being called up to train with the first team.
Fandi Ahmad, then the Head Coach of the National U20 side, took note of Ifwat’s potential and included him in a training camp in Thailand last year, as well as the team’s friendly matches. When Fandi took charge of the Young Lions this season, his offer to Ifwat to join the set-up was one the latter could not refuse.
With one start and seven more appearances off the bench, Ifwat has not quite managed to establish himself in the first team, but he has not been discouraged.
“It has never been easy,” he reflected upon his journey, which started at seven and saw him play on the right wing for Bedok South Secondary and briefly at right-back for Geylang’s U14s.
“We have to fight for our spots but I always know that God willing, my chances will come and I need to keep on working and fighting my way up.
Ifwat’s famous hat-trick against Tampines while in Geylang colours last year.
MORE TO COME
The 21-year-old, who stands at 1.78m and cites speed as his strength, scored his first ever league goal – a late equaliser against former club Geylang in a 1-1 draw earlier this year – and models his game after Thierry Henry.
“I am an Arsenal fan and he is my ultimate, favourite player whom I have looked up to since young,” he said. “I always view his videos and at times, I still can’t believe how good he was.”
Ifwat, currently in the third year of his Diploma in Mechatronics course in Temasek Polytechnic, hopes to get more opportunities to bang in the goals for the rest of the season.
“I want the team to be in the top three,” he said. “In the longer term, I aim to be in the National senior team for a solid ten years or more; that would be a great achievement for me.”
Like how Ronaldo and Rooney went on to have distinguished careers, Ifwat is determined to make sure that his heroics against Tampines is just one of many glorious footnotes when he looks back on his journey.
“That is the best moment of my career – for now,” he asserted. “And I want to work harder for more of such moments.”