Suzuki Cup: Fandi brothers hope to make history on home soil
SINGAPORE - From the way they finish off each other's sentences to how they banter and make fun of Irfan's messiness, Ikhsan's vanity and Ilhan's apparent lack of pace, it is clear that the Fandi brothers are a close-knit group.
And if they can translate this understanding and chemistry onto the National Stadium pitch, Singapore could have a formidable trio for this year's Suzuki Cup and the future.
Lions coach Tatsuma Yoshida was coy though about whether he will unleash them all in any of the Asean Football Federation Championship matches.
The Japanese was nevertheless pleased to have that option. He said: "I cannot promise anyone's selection, and they may or may not play together at the Suzuki Cup, but there is no question about the Fandis' potential, which we shouldn't doubt."
Striker Ikhsan has already made an impact after his brace in Sunday's (Dec 5) 3-0 win over Myanmar while centre-back Irfan will be pleased with the clean sheet.
The older sons of Singapore's all-time top scorer Fandi Ahmad (55 goals and 101 caps) are hoping forward Ilhan, who was not in the matchday squad, will join them on the pitch soon.
Of the three, Irfan, 24, is the senior statesman who has 32 caps and one goal. At club level, the forward-turned-defender is a key player for Thai champions BG Pathum who had the league's stingiest defence (13 goals conceded in 30 games last season) and made it to the AFC Champions League round of 16.
He said: "It's always an honour to represent the nation, and having my two brothers with me in the team is something special for us.
"It was me and Ikhsan before, then it was me and Ilhan during the World Cup qualifiers in June. Now the three of us are in the same squad, it's going to be fun and hopefully we will get to play at the same time on the field."
Meanwhile, Ikhsan, 22, is trying to carve his own path in Europe. While his playing time with FK Jerv this season has been limited to 639 minutes, he did score four times as his club made the playoffs to fight for a place in the Norwegian top tier.
He said: "The three of us played together on the same team when we were much younger and back then all of us were always on the scoresheet.
"Ilhan and I always had a plan that I will play as the No. 9 and Ilhan will play behind me like a No. 10 because he has an eye for good passes and assists. Maybe we can revive that at this Suzuki Cup.
"The good thing is we all have a good connection, we expect a lot from each other so we push each other hard during games. There can be a bit of tension but that's football. We all want to do well and we get through it together."
The baby of the team is 19-year-old Ilhan, who scored seven times in 18 games for the Young Lions this year even while serving his National Service.
Despite being the newcomer to the national team with a single cap, he is relaxed about carrying the Fandi name.
"I don't feel any pressure," said Ilhan. "We are just here to play football and we want to enjoy the moment because it's a prestigious tournament. My brothers told me to just do my best and let my football do the talking."
Tall, good looking and athletic, the three siblings are fan favourites - they have a combined 212,000 Instagram followers - and they urged supporters to come to the games to support the Lions. Singapore's next match is on Wednesday against the Philippines.
Irfan said: "Football is nothing without fans, so we really need your support at our home ground. It felt good to be playing in front of our countrymen and we enjoyed your support on Sunday. We hope to see you again for our upcoming matches."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.