Football: Irfan could fit into Sundram's defensive plan

Irfan Fandi's height and physique, says national coach V. Sundramoorthy, will be crucial factors in his development as a central defender in the absence of centre-back Baihakki Khaizan.
Irfan Fandi's height and physique, says national coach V. Sundramoorthy, will be crucial factors in his development as a central defender in the absence of centre-back Baihakki Khaizan.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Teenager provides an extra option as Lions prepare for their friendly against Afghanistan

Young striker Irfan Fandi's defensive capabilities could be utilised by Singapore national coach V. Sundramoorthy for the Lions' two upcoming football matches.

They take on Afghanistan tomorrow in an international friendly held in Doha, before travelling to Bahrain to play the hosts in their 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers opening group match next Tuesday.

Irfan, who is 1.88m and is adept both as a striker and a centre-back, has been playing more as a defender over the past year for his club, Home United, in the S-League.

Sundram said that the 19-year-old's height and physique would be an asset to bolster his side's backline.

The 51-year-old tactician said: "He has a good physical presence, is strong in the air, a ball winner and fits into the role of a central defender. I have confidence in Irfan that he is a good central defender.

"I believe that Irfan is a hard-working player. Although he is still young, he is consistently improving his play as a central defender."

When Irfan, who is currently a full-time national serviceman, earned his first cap last October in a friendly match against Hong Kong, Sundram deployed him just behind chief striker Khairul Amri.

Given that veteran centre-back Baihakki Khaizan is not included in the current squad, it could be Irfan's chance to show he belongs in the Lions team.

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  • Singapore caps earned by Irfan Fandi.

Still, Sundram has plenty of defenders he could choose from in his 22-player squad - veterans Daniel Bennett, 39, Fahrudin Mustafic, 35, and Madhu Mohana, 26, are regulars in the senior side.

Irfan's addition, however, could add a degree of versatility on the pitch, as he can be deployed as a striker in emergency situation.

And one such player who has done so for the Lions could very well be his central defensive partner - 25-year-old Safuwan Baharudin, who has played on either end of the pitch for previous Sundram sides.

Sundram said: "Having plenty of choices in defence is a good thing to have. It places defenders (in a position) to fight for their places and to know that they need to work hard to cement their place in the national team."

Tomorrow's match will be Sundram's first assignment since he received a two-year contract extension last Monday. He will also be leading the Lions in their first match since they suffered a group- stage exit at last November's Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

They will be hoping to bounce back from that dismal outing, as they embark on a new qualifying campaign for the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

Turkmenistan and Chinese Taipei complete Group E, and the top two will qualify for the tournament.

Sundram said he is thankful for the opportunity to lead the team for a longer period of time, and emphasised that he will not take any games lightly.

"Every game is important, be it a friendly or an official competition," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'Irfan could fit into Sundram's defensive plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe