Irfan gets advice from dad

Irfan Fandi's making progress as he moves from attack to defence


(Tonight, 8pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - Eleven)

At a training session at Geylang Field on Wednesday, a corner kick was whipped into the box for experienced Lions Baihakki Khaizan (1.9m tall) and Daniel Bennett (1.84m).

But neither managed to get on the end of the delivery. Instead, rookie Irfan Fandi rose highest to head the ball clear.

The powerfully built Irfan, the eldest son of local icon Fandi Ahmad, is only 19 but already stands at 1.87m.

The Home United player was invited to train with the Lions back in March, but his call-up to the squad for tonight's Causeway Challenge match against rivals Malaysia at the National Stadium is his first official one.

Irfan told The New Paper: "Compared to the last time, I think this is much more intense.

"Everyone is fighting for his place at (next month's) AFF Suzuki Cup. It's very competitive and everyone gives 100 per cent."


Obviously, he has been given advice by his father, who is assistant to national coach V Sundramoorthy.

Fandi said: "I told him: 'Once you are here, make your presence felt'.

"I made sure he knows he has to work hard, and most importantly, he must be willing to learn and listen to instructions from the coach and the senior players."

Sundram is happy with what he has seen from the youngster.

"His main attribute is a strong physical presence in defence," said the coach who celebrated his 51st birthday yesterday.

"He's good in the air and, with more games under his belt, he can be one for the future."

Irfan started off as a striker, like his father, but has been playing more as a centre defender in the last 12 months.

His aerial ability has come in handy on either end of the pitch.

Because of his father, Irfan's progress over the years has been of particular interest.

In 2013, he represented the national Under-16 team in the Lion City Cup, scoring against English giants Arsenal and German outfit Eintracht Frankfurt, despite the Cubs failing to progress from the group stage.

Last year, he was part of the Singapore Under-23 team that crashed out of the SEA Games on home soil at the first stage.

Fandi believes there is some way yet for Irfan to go.

"He needs to learn by playing more alongside experienced players, and he needs to be a bit more vocal," said the former national skipper.


"It's not easy to change positions from striker to defender, but he must quickly adapt to the system and intensity.

"He's still inexperienced at this level but Sundram received good feedback from the Under-21 coach Richard Tardy, who said Irfan did well in (an U-21 friendly in) Iran.

"That's why Sundram wanted to play him (in a closed-door, non 'A' International match) against Cambodia last week."

Irfan is more than happy to bide his time and learn from defenders like Baihakki (125 caps), Bennett (126 caps) and Mustafic Fahrudin (79 caps).

"In the past few training sessions, I've mainly partnered Farra and it's very easy to play with him because he's so experienced," said the youngster. "I haven't played with Bai or Bennett, but I can see from training they're very fierce and aggressive.

"I just want to work really hard and show I can play in both defence and up front."

He needs to learn by playing more alongside experienced players, and he needs to be a bit more vocal.

— Fandi Ahmad on his son Irfan

Derby classics

BLUNDER: Singapore goalkeeper Abdul Malek is unable to prevent Borhan Abu Samah's own-goal.
DYNAMIC DUO: Singapore's Aleksandar Duric (No. 9) and Qiu Li (right) are instrumental in taming the Tigers.
BLUNDER: Singapore goalkeeper Abdul Malek is unable to prevent Borhan Abu Samah's own-goal. DYNAMIC DUO: Singapore's Aleksandar Duric (No. 9) and Qiu Li (right) are instrumental in taming the Tigers.
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Causeway Challenge 2016


Singapore v Malaysia


Tonight, 8.30pm


National Stadium


Adult: $28 (Category 1), $18 (Category 2); Concession: (students aged 16 and below, and senior citizens aged 60 and above): $16 (Category 1), $8 (Category 2)




Call +65 3158 7888 (10am to 8pm)


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Experience at the back

Bai, Mustafic and Bennett tout experience, guile and teamwork as key for the Lions

Baihakki Khaizan and Mustafic Fahrudin.

Between them, Baihakki Khaizan, Daniel Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin boast 330 international caps.

There is plenty of experience among V Sundramoorthy's central defenders, as they shape up to face Malaysia tonight in the Causeway Challenge at the National Stadium.

But with the trio on the wrong side of 30 - Bai is 32, Mustafic 35 and Bennett 38- many will wonder if they will be able to cope with the speed of the modern game, especially at the AFF Suzuki Cup next month.

Singapore have been drawn in Group A of the Suzuki Cup with tournament co-hosts Philippines, who are Asean's No. 1 team, along with defending champions Thailand and Indonesia.


Sundram, however, is not worried.

"It's good to have so many players competing, not just in central defence but also at right back and left back," said the coach.

"Who plays depends on the opponent we are going to play.

"When we play against the Philippines, we know they have bigger boys we have to cope with, but against Thailand, who are known to be speedy, we might change the approach.

"I'm confident in who we have. More or less, the team are already settled. All we need to do is a little fine-tuning."

Apart from Bai (125 caps), Bennett (126) and Mustafic (79), Sundram can also opt to play 25-year-old Madhu Mohana (16) or 23-year-old Shakir Hamzah (25) in the centre, although the duo's versatility also makes them options for right back and left back, respectively.

The squad also feature the lanky 25-year-old Afiq Yunos, who stands at 1.84m and has 11 caps, and the uncapped 19-year-old Irfan Fandi, who is 1.87m tall.

The defenders believe they have can handle whatever is thrown at them.


Bai believes Singapore's reputation for being a solid unit will hold them in good stead.

"Firstly, defenders tend to peak at a later stage of their career," said the Johor Darul Ta'zim II man.

"Of course, when you age, you start losing pace, but you gain experience. You know when to move at the right second, and which position you have to be in.

"The midfield department has a role to play in defending as well, that's why football is a team game.

"As long as we cover each other and concentrate on our strengths as a team, we can do okay."

Bennett, who was recalled by Sundram in July to return to the national squad for the first time since the Lions' last Suzuki Cup triumph in Dec 2012, believes modern football is all about guile.

"Obviously I'm 38. I can't change my passport," he said, matter-of-factly.

"Coach makes the decisions, and it's based on us playing our club football.

"I feel, in any team, there are players who are fast and those who aren't as fast.

"This is football, and you learn to cope with it in different ways.

"Some of the best players in the world aren't that fast, and often (what sets them apart is) they're clever players."

Mustafic agreed, saying the experience of Singapore's veteran players will be a boon for the team.

"It's especially important in games with the national team, where you have to handle a lot of pressure," he said.

"Our current team remind me a lot of the Suzuki Cup squad in 2012.

"Two years earlier, we were knocked out of the group stage and we were having a tough time with results heading into the tournament.

"But, in our first game, against Malaysia at the Bukit Jalil Stadium again, where the pressure was so high, we showed we learned from the experience in 2010 and we handled it and won 3-0.

"This time round, players like Hariss Harun (with Johor Darul Ta'zim) and the Tampines Rovers players in the squad know what that experience is like with their clubs going far in the AFC Cup."

Derby classics

From Jakarta to Merdeka and Jalan Besar, here are some Causeway clashes to savour

HERO: Singapore's Mohamed Noh (left) getting a hug from Nasir Jalil after the former netted the winner against Malaysia in a World Cup qualifier in 1977 at the old National Stadium.
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Malaysia not at their best

But Malaysia coach Ong heartened by enthusiasm of new faces

He has had to grapple with the retirement of key players, leaving him with a largely inexperienced side.

To worsen matters, Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee has had only four days to work with his full squad, which includes five uncapped players.

However, Ong has chosen to focus on the positives, ahead of tonight's Causeway Challenge against Singapore.

"After a few days of training with the new faces, they are so eager and every one is trying to impress me and that is a good sign," he said at yesterday's pre-match press conference.

"This will be a chance for the new faces to prove themselves. We have focused on the defence a lot and I want to see them play at a competitive international level against Singapore."

He was probably referring to Kedah defender Khairul Helmi Johari and utility player Rizal Ghazali.

Along with Kedah star midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar, they look set to start in place of Johor Darul Ta'zim's quartet of Aidil Zafuan, Safiq Rahim, Amirulhadi Zainal and S Kunanlan, whose retirement has left a vacuum in the team.

Goalkeeper Khairul Fahmie Che Mat and Izham Tarmizi Roslan are not in the squad, with Selangor custodian Khairul Azhan set to start in a new-look backline.

"I hope (tonight) they can do something, but after a lot of changes, it's going to take time for the team to gel. This game is good to assess that," said Ong.

Malaysia beat Singapore 3-1 in the 2014 Suzuki Cup group stage at the Singapore Sports Hub's National Stadium. The Tigers then lost 3-4 to Thailand in the two-legged finals.


Ong was hesitant at predicting another final appearance at this year's competition, which takes place from Nov 19 to Dec 17.

Malaysia are in Group B alongside Myanmar, Vietnam, and the winners of the qualifying round.

"The target is always set high and everyone wants to be in the final," he said. "But let us focus on getting past the group stage first and then we can talk about what's next.

"It's important to prepare well and with that we can achieve our target."


After a few days of training with the new faces, they are so eager and every one is trying to impress me and that is a good sign.

— Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee

Cautious coaches

Sundram and Ong both voice caution ahead of crucial clash

NO ADVANTAGE: Lions coach 
V Sundramoorthy does not think that the retirement of Malaysia's key players will boost Singapore's chances of winning tonight.



(Tonight, 8pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - Eleven)

They hesitated before the handshake.

But, a split-second and a knowing glance later, the shoulders of V Sundramoorthy and Ong Kim Swee loosened as both men got into conversation.

It was merely small talk as they waited to pose for photographs at the pre-match press conference for tonight's Causeway Challenge, but it was clear that there was some sort of camaraderie between the national coaches of Singapore and Malaysia.  

Tonight's match at the Singapore Sports Hub's National Stadium is a warm-up fixture for the AFF Suzuki Cup, which starts on Nov 19.

Clearly, a positive performance - and result - is needed on either side of the Causeway.

Neither man would say it, but a loss tonight would be disastrous.

Last month, Malaysia lost 3-0 to an Indonesia side just returning to the international fold after a Fifa ban.

And the Tigers are still looking to instil some sense of normalcy after reeling from a club-versus-country row with Malaysian Super League (MSL) side Johor Darul Ta'zim that has seen the team lose four from their first 11 – including skipper Safiq Rahim ​– to early retirement.

But Sundram refused to accept the notion of wounded Tigers, and instead called for caution.

"It will be a hard game, Malaysia are coming here to also prepare for the Suzuki Cup, same as us. (Malaysia's) retirements can be good and can also be not good for them," he said.

"The senior players may have retired but it gives the younger players a chance to prove themselves on a big stage.


"Ong has used a lot of young players, and they are speedy players. We'll start at 11 versus 11 and it will be a level playing field."

Singapore have not had the best of times under Sundram either, winning just once and losing thrice since the former Tampines Rovers coach took charge.

This included a 2-1 defeat by a 10-man Cambodia side - the first time Singapore fell to the Cambodians in 44 years.

But Ong adopted a similar cautious approach.

"I know Sundram very well when he was with the LionsXII. In certain games, he adopted tactical changes, and he's done a very good job with the LionsXII, and even with Tampines," said Ong.

Sundram led the now-defunct LionsXII to the MSL title in 2013, his second year in charge of the team.

He spent a year with Malaysian second-tier side Negeri Sembilan before returning to the S.League with Tampines, leading them to second spot last year and into the AFC Cup quarter-finals, before taking the reins of the national team.

"But (tonight) is a different kind of game. Singapore are at home, and I expect them to press us early," added Ong.

"Hopefully, we benefit from this game and, definitely, we are looking for a good result, but our objective is to prepare for the Suzuki Cup."

Neither Sundram nor Ong would say it, but a draw on the back of a decent performance would suit both sides looking to pull their teams out of a rut, and relieve some pressure ahead of what is set to be a challenging Suzuki Cup campaign for both teams.

The Lions are in Group A, along with defending champions Thailand, Indonesia and co-hosts, the Philippines; while the Tigers are in Group B with Vietnam, Myanmar and the winners of the qualifying round.

Both Sundram and Ong expect a tough game tonight, but it was perhaps in the words they left unsaid that will determine just how the match unfolds.

I feel the last game against Malaysia was a learning experience for us… We were a bit naive…I feel we are better prepared now with a couple of senior heads in the team and we hope for a positive result.

— Hariss Harun, referring to Singapore’s 3-1 defeat by Malaysia the last time both sides met — in the 2014 Suzuki Cup at the National Stadium

A tribute to one of the Lions' top fans

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Sundram recalls close friendship

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Anthonysamy: Footballer, fighter, inspiration

Brother, nephew pay tribute to the late Anthonysamy

Former Singapore international S Anthonysamy died yesterday at the age of 51.

The former winger, who has been paralysed from the neck down after a freak injury suffered in a football match 20 years ago, had been admitted at the Singapore General Hospital over the last week due to a serious chest infection.

He passed away shortly before 5pm yesterday, surrounded by family and friends.

Speaking to The New Paper, brother S Pushpanathan, 53, said: "After all that happened to him, he was still so positive. He was always smiling, telling jokes and looking on the bright side of life.

"A lot of credit also has to go to his wife Keralin (Mary), who stood by him all the way and helped him through these 20 years."


On Sept 3, 1996, tragedy struck when Anthonysamy turned out for Woodlands Wellington in a friendly against Malaysian side Selangor.

He came on as a substitute in the last 10 minutes and managed to conjure up an assist for the final goal in a 4-1 win.

Two minutes later, he was floored after a challenge with Selangor's Mubin Mokhtar, who landed with his full weight on the Singaporean player.

Anthonysamy fractured two vertebrae near his neck and was paralysed from the neck down.

Despite the tragic setback, Anthonysamy never gave up in his quest to live life to the fullest.


While understandably distraught yesterday, Puspanathan broke into a smile when asked to recount some of his favourite memories of his younger brother's on-field exploits.

"Back in the day, there was the Bogaars Cup between Safsa and Police, who had a very strong team.

"My brother was playing for Safsa and they were 2-0 down, until he scored two goals and laid on the assist for the winner.

"It was that night when I received a call at home from then-Singapore coach Seak Poh Leong, asking for Anthony to turn up for national team selection the next morning.

"I also remember one pre-Olympic qualifier against Japan, when he suffered an injury in training but played the full 90 minutes.

"He was the Man of the Match and the Japanese just couldn't catch him, which explains his nickname 'Speedy'."

Anthonysamy's nephew, Abdul Saleem, was among the relatives that were by his side in his final hours.

The 34-year-old, who Puspanathan revealed had been heavily involved in caring for Anthonysamy, had fond memories of their time together.

"He was a diehard Manchester United fan," said Saleem.

"A few years ago, I put him in my car and we drove all the way to Kuala Lumpur to watch United in action.

"The organisers knew him, so they gave us tickets and we even stayed on the same floor of the hotel as the United players.

"Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes both remembered him from a previous meeting and that really made his day.

"I will remember him as a fighter who never gave up and, despite all that happened to him, he was still so involved in his church and I believe his faith kept him alive for the past 20 years.

"Everyone looked up to him and he was such an inspiration.

"I always think to myself that if he can do all this with his life, why can't I?

"That's the one thing I learnt from him."

For the past 20 years, he lived his life to the fullest and was an inspiration to many people. Football mourns the loss of a great player but celebrates the life he led.

— Hougang United general manager Matthew Tay. The S.League club have raised more than $100,000 for Anthonysamy since 2012