Singapore's Irfan Fandi aims to start Asian Cup qualifier vs. Bahrain
Irfan Fandi admits that he once let being the eldest son of Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad affect his game.
Fandi, 19, is in line to start in the Lions' AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain on Tuesday night after a strong performance in last week's friendly against Afghanistan.
He says he now feels more confident in himself, rather than trying to live up the fans' perceptions of him being the next, big footballing hope of the nation.
"I felt the pressure of the attention and the weight of expectation when I was younger," Irfan told The New Paper.
"I first experienced that during the 2013 Lion City Cup and then also at the 2015 SEA Games. People expected me to win games on my own, which was a bit unrealistic.
"Being active on social media, I would read through the comments that I'm not living up to my father's name. I would feel bad and it affected my game.
"Now, I have moved beyond that phase. I feel more liberated and free to express myself on the pitch."
Irfan, who can also play as a forward, partnered Safuwan Baharudin in central defence in last Thursday's 2-1 friendly defeat to Afghanistan in Doha. He says the Malaysia-based utility player is one of the national teammates who has helped him mature.
"Having the likes of Hassan Sunny, Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin around me on the pitch to encourage and push me really helps a lot," he said.
"I want to live up to my family name and play my part to contribute to the national team's success."
Irfan was first capped at senior level last October when he played as a striker in a 2-0 away defeat to Hong Kong in a friendly.
Having a South African mother, he'd toyed with the idea of trying to represent the faraway republic before pledging his allegiance to Singapore.
"Singapore has given my dad and my family a lot in the sense that there's always a lot of encouragement and support," said Irfan.
"I feel that we, as children, should give back to the country in any way we can."
Singapore's match against the Bahrainis opens their third-round qualifying campaign in Group E. On Sunday, Turkmenistan went to the top of the table after a 3-1 victory over Chinese Taipei in Taipei.
The Lions will need to snap a six-game losing streak if they are to get anything out of the game in Riffa.
Coach V. Sundramoorthy has to decide whether to stick with Irfan at the back, or go for the more experienced Daniel Bennett, who is 20 years older than the teenager. Madhu Mohana, 26, is also in line to be recalled.
"It will be something special if I get to play my first competitive match at the senior international level," Irfan said.
"[Bahrain] are probably bigger, fitter and stronger than Afghanistan, and it's a big challenge for me.
"It will be something special if I get to play my first competitive match at the senior international level.
"Nobody expects us to pull off a result, so that's already one motivation to prove them wrong.
"With lots of hard work and some luck, we can do it."
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