Football: Ilhan Fandi one of three uncapped players called up for June's World Cup qualifiers

Ilhan Fandi is set to become the latest son of Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad to earn a national cap. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Lions’ rivals from Palestine, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia could be seeing not just double, but triple when they take on Singapore’s national football team in June.

Ilhan Fandi is in line to unite on the pitch with elder brothers Irfan and Ikhsan after the 18-year-old was included in a 26-man squad by national coach Tatsuma Yoshida for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

The Lions will travel to Saudi Arabia to face Group D opponents Palestine (June 4), Uzbekistan (June 8) and the centralised venue hosts (June 12).

Ilhan, the third son of Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad, is one of three uncapped players to be called up, along with Lion City Sailors’ Saifullah Akbar and Hougang United’s Idraki Adnan, who are both 22.

Said Ilhan: “This is a huge opportunity for me. It’s not just a friendly but the World Cup Qualifiers.

“It is everyone’s dream to play for their country and If I am given a chance to play in these matches, I will take it with both hands and enjoy the moment.

“My goal is to score. I really want to score.”

When asked about the prospects of linking up with his brothers Irfan and Ikhsan, who both ply their trades in Thailand and Norway respectively, Ilhan said he was looking forward to it but football is the primary objective as the forward aims to “work hard and get a game for the national team”.

Fandi told The Straits Times: "As a father, of course I am proud of all of them for being in the national team. Any father would be. They each have a role to play so they know they have to work hard for their chances.

While surprised at Ilhan’s inclusion, the 58-year-old added: “Technically, he is very good and has a very good vision for passes, so I see him as more of an attacking midfielder.

“But he’s been playing up front for the Young Lions and coach Tatsuma also seems to see him as a forward. This is a good chance for him, especially to be playing with senior players.

“I have told him to stay focused and also to be grounded. He still has a long way to go.”

Other than Safuwan Baharudin, who will miss out as a precaution after sustaining a concussion two-and-a-half weeks ago while playing for Selangor in the Malaysian Super League, there were no major surprises in Yoshida’s squad.

Said Yoshida on the Fandi trio: “These brothers, they are unique and quite different from each other. They each have their own individual quality.

“Ilhan has natural instincts (in front of goal) and I called him up because of his performances and his talent.”

On the new inclusions, he added: “Saifullah has maintained his consistency from last season, while Idraki is an exciting attacker and gives us options on the flanks.”

The qualifiers, which were postponed from last year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, will also count towards qualifying for the 2023 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup.

Despite being the lowest-ranked side in Group D, the Lions, who are 159th in the world, are third with seven points.

They are four points behind leaders Saudi Arabia (65th), and two behind second-placed Uzbekistan (86th). Yemen (145th) have five points while Palestine (104th) are bottom with four.

The top finishers in each of the eight qualifying groups and best four second-placed teams will progress to the third round of World Cup qualifiers and secure a spot at the Asian Cup in China.

The Lions’ last outing was in November 2019, a 2-1 away win against Yemen in a World Cup qualifier. While Yoshida admitted that he was concerned by the loss of momentum due to the long break, he is aiming for “good results”.

He added: “We have to play even in these tough situations. I hope to get three points but I know and understand that our three opponents are all strong. But we have to try our best and play to win.”

SPH Brightcove Video
Ilhan Fandi gives his take on who he thinks is the best footballer in the family and how it's like growing up in the Fandi household.

The Singapore squad:

Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny (Lion City Sailors), Izwan Mahbud (no club), Zaiful Nizam (Balestier Khalsa).

Defenders: Amirul Adli (Lion City), Baihakki Khaizan, Madhu Mohana (Tampines Rovers), Hafiz Abu Sujad, Nazrul Nazari (Hougang United), Irfan Fandi (B G Pathum United), Shakir Hamzah (Perak FC), Zulqarnaen Suzliman (Young Lions).

Midfielders: Hami Syahin (Young Lions), M. Anumanthan (Kedah Darul Aman FC), Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman, Saifullah Akbar (Lion City) Idraki Adnan (Hougang), Zulfahmi Arifin (no club), Yasir Hanapi (Tampines).

Forwards: Gabriel Quak, Faris Ramli, Hafiz Nor (Lion City), Hazzuwan Halim (Balestier Khalsa), Ilhan Fandi (Young Lions), Ikhsan Fandi (F K Jerv), Shawal Anuar (Hougang).

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