SINGAPORE – Irfan Fandi knows the score and is doing everything he can do to catch up. His girlfriend of seven years, world champion silat exponent Nurul Suhaila Saiful, has two SEA Games bronze medals. Irfan meanwhile, has yet to get off the mark.
It serves as a minor annoyance and major motivation, he jokingly told The Straits Times.
"Of course, I'm happy for her and I wish her success in all her competitions, but I also want one of my own after missing out in 2015 and 2017," said the 22-year-old, who will captain Singapore at this year's tournament in the Philippines.
"It will be a dream come true if we can both return from the Philippines with medals and bring glory to Singapore together."
He was 17 when he made his Games debut at the Singapore edition four years ago and was still finding his feet. With 23 senior international caps and almost 100 games at club level, Irfan is very much the de facto leader in the Young Lions dressing room.
He is also coming off a promotion-winning season with his Thai League 2 club BG Pathum United, where he became the first Singaporean to win a league title in Thailand and earned himself a one-year contract extension with the option of signing for another season.
Irfan said: "My time with BG Pathum has taught me a lot in terms of discipline. Over in Thailand, being away from what I'm familiar with back home, there are few distractions. I am very focused, it's mostly eat, sleep, football and I feel like this is every footballer's dream.
"There is a new culture, new style of play that I needed to get used to quickly. We like to keep possession and keep going forward. Being affiliated to J-League's Cerezo Osaka, our style is quite similar to the Singapore national team under coach Tatsuma Yoshida, so that is a big plus.
"I feel I am a different player now, with more confidence and a winning mentality, and I have to show what I have learnt. Winning the league was not as easy as the table suggests. We had to work really hard – for example, when other teams get a few days break, we would have only one or two.
"It's like what we did when we were unbeaten in the AFC Under-23 Qualifiers and when we won the Merlion Cup. If we want to achieve something at this SEA Games, we have work our socks off."
He and his fellow Under-22 teammates will have their work cut out for them in Manila. They have five Group B games in 10 days and will face Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Brunei and defending champions Thailand.
"The target is definitely to get out of the group stage and win a medal," said Irfan.
"I feel anything is possible. The games against Laos and Brunei are must win, and if we can take one or two wins off Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, we can get there."
First up at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Tuesday (Nov 26) is Laos and a familiar face. Former Lions stRead More – Source