Fandi’s fledglings to the fore
Lions coach keeps faith with youngsters, who look set to play a prominent role in Suzuki Cup
It's been a hallmark of Fandi Ahmad throughout his coaching career - his faith in youth.
Despite taking on his biggest challenge yet as the Lions' ringmaster, that faith hasn't wavered.
In the 56-year-old's four pre-tournament friendlies ahead of Friday's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup Group B opener against Indonesia at the National Stadium, he offered opportunities to a group of young Lions.
And it clearly wasn't for show.
When Fandi announced his squad for the biennial tournament on Sunday, the bulk of the Under-23 members from the Lions' friendlies against Mongolia and Cambodia last month kept their places.
Only Tampines Rovers midfielder Zulfadhmi Suzliman dropped out, but he was carrying a knock.
And if the friendlies are any indication, don't expect Fandi's fledglings - Zulqarnaen Suzliman (20), Irfan Fandi (21), Jacob Mahler (18), Adam Swandi (22) and Ikhsan Fandi (19) - to be in the squad just for tournament experience.
Irfan has cemented his place as a first-choice centre-back, while to his right, fullback Zulqarnaen also seems in contention to start in a keenly contested position where Fandi also has Faritz Hameed and Nazrul Nazari as options.
The youngest member of Fandi's fledglings, Jacob, is unlikely to start, but his coach clearly sees something in a player he has fast-tracked from the Under-18s to his first major tournament in just 11 months.
Farther afield, Fandi has said on multiple occasions that the No. 10 role position has been his biggest headache since taking over in May.
Adam - who has had the best season of his career and was named the Singapore Premier League's Young Player of the Year - has been name-checked as a contender for the playmaker's position.
But perhaps the player who has enhanced his reputation most since Fandi took over the reins is his second son Ikhsan.
Three goals in the four friendlies have put him in pole position to start up front against Indonesia.
The teen is well aware that his form means much is expected of him.
Ikhsan told The New Paper: "My whole life I've been playing with a little bit of pressure, because of the (Fandi) name.
"But this is a different platform, it's a really big competition against really good teams and I think I'm expected to score and help the team.
"But we can't only depend on me, it's a team game."
Veteran Lions attacker Khairul Amri knows all about bursting onto the AFF Suzuki Cup stage as a 19-year-old, having scored twice during the Lions' title-winning campaign in 2004.
He feels that opposition defenders should be worried about facing Ikhsan.
Said the 33-year-old: "I told him you got nothing to lose as a 19-year-old... You don't have to prove (anything to) anyone...
"Ikhsan will be a standout if he manages to score his first goal early. Hopefully he can start with Indonesia...
"Other teams' defenders should be worried about him because he's a different kind of striker from the small, nippy strikers in this region. He's powerful, he's strong.
"They should be the ones worried about him, rather than him being worried about them."
Despite having just three caps, Zulqarnaen, too, isn't worried about being thrown into the deep end.
He said: "I don't feel any feel any pressure at all. If I get the chance to play, I will prove that I am already there. I want to make a name for myself...
"This is a new era for Singapore football. Even though you are young, if you have the potential and skill, you will get a chance to play."
Tickets for Singapore's Suzuki Cup opener against Indonesia at the National Stadium on Friday are available from all SingPost outlets, www.sportshubtix.sg, or via +65 3158 7888.
Hariss named best Asean player in Malaysia
Singapore captain Hariss Harun was named as the Best Asean Player at the Anugerah Bolasepak Kebangsaan 2018 (National Football Awards), organised by the Malaysian Football League on Monday.
The midfielder, who turns 28 on Nov 19, led Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) to the Malaysian Super League title this season.
He pipped two Singaporean teammates who are also plying their trade in Malaysia - Safuwan Baharudin (Pahang) and Faris Ramli (PKNS).
Hariss wrote in an Instagram post: "Thank you to each and everyone of you who voted for me. It is a huge honour for me to have received this award.
"I couldn't have done it without the support of my beloved family, fans and teammates."
Hariss also paid tribute to Safuwan and Faris, saying that both players had a great season and deserve the award as much.
JDT were the big winners at the awards ceremony. Their custodian Farizal Marlias was named the Best Goalkeeper, while star player Safawi Rasid was named Best Midfielder, Most Promising Youngster and Most Valuable Player.
They were also named the Best Club.