SEA Games: Singapore footballer trying to catch up with girlfriend’s medal haul
SINGAPORE – Singaporean footballer Irfan Fandi knows the score and is doing everything he can do to catch up. His girlfriend of seven years, world champion silat exponent Nurul Suhaila Saiful, has two SEA Games bronze medals. Irfan meanwhile, has yet to get off the mark.
It serves as a minor annoyance and major motivation, he jokingly told The Straits Times.
“Of course, I’m happy for her and I wish her success in all her competitions, but I also want one of my own after missing out in 2015 and 2017,” said the 22-year-old, who is the captain for Singapore football team at this year’s tournament in the Philippines.
“It will be a dream come true if we can both return from the Philippines with medals and bring glory to Singapore together.”
He was 17 when he made his Games debut at the Singapore edition four years ago and was still finding his feet. With 23 senior international caps and almost 100 games at club level, Irfan is very much the de facto leader in the Young Lions dressing room.
He is also coming off a promotion-winning season with his Thai League 2 club BG Pathum United, where he became the first Singaporean to win a league title in Thailand and earned himself a one-year contract extension with the option of signing for another season.
Irfan said: “My time with BG Pathum has taught me a lot in terms of discipline. Over in Thailand, being away from what I’m familiar with back home, there are few distractions. I am very focused, it’s mostly eat, sleep, football and I feel like this is every footballer’s dream.
“There is a new culture, new style of play that I needed to get used to quickly. We like to keep possession and keep going forward. Being affiliated to J-League’s Cerezo Osaka, our style is quite similar to the Singapore national team under coach Tatsuma Yoshida, so that is a big plus.
“I feel I am a different player now, with more confidence and a winning mentality, and I have to show what I have learnt. Winning the league was not as easy as the table suggests. We had to work really hard – for example, when other teams get a few days break, we would have only one or two.
“It’s like what we did when we were unbeaten in the AFC Under-23 Qualifiers and when we won the Merlion Cup. If we want to achieve something at this SEA Games, we have work our socks off.”
He and his fellow Under-22 teammates will have their work cut out for them in Manila. They have five Group B games in 10 days and will face Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Brunei and defending champions Thailand.
“The target is definitely to get out of the group stage and win a medal,” said Irfan.
“I feel anything is possible. The games against Laos and Brunei are must win, and if we can take one or two wins off Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, we can get there.”
Sundram, 54, said: “Obviously Singapore is my country of birth and I love Singapore, but this is my job and I have to try to get the best result for Laos.
“It is something like how we played for other states against Singapore during the Malaysia Cup days, but there is no doubt Singapore will be favorites in this match with their overseas-based players Faris Ramli, Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi, and those involved with the senior team like Zulqarnaen Suzliman, Hami Syahin and Jacob Mahler.”
Sundram’s opposite number Fandi Ahmad, 57, stressed he would not take Laos lightly but has demanded three points to get Singapore’s campaign off to a positive start.
“It is important we win the first game. This is not an easy group but we like this challenge to see if we have caught up with the region,” he said.
“We are improving with every game, and with good fighting spirit, fitness, tactical discipline, and teamwork, we believe we can make things happen in this tough group.”
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