Sons of Fandi and Nazri raring for shot at Singapore Lion City Cup

Justin Ong
Fit to Post Sports

Plenty of eyes will be on Irfan Fandi as he plays the tournament that his famous father, Fandi Ahmad, burst onto the scene with. (Photo: 25th Canon Lion City Cup)

Irfan Fandi, Adam Hakeem and Ribiyanda Saswadimata cannot wait to play their first Canon Lion City Cup this Saturday.

Never mind that their team, Singapore’s National Football Academy (NFA) Under-16s, faces a stern opening test in the form of youths from the world-class Arsenal Football Club.

Never mind that, despite having trained together for only five months, the squad bears expectations of living up to the second-place finish achieved by their predecessors in the 24th edition last year.

Least of all, never mind that Irfan, Adam and Ribiyanda will be judged against their respective famous fathers: ex-national players Fandi Ahmad, Nazri Nasir and Saswadimata Dasuki.

Far from being cowed, the boys are positively excited, as they told Yahoo! Singapore after a training session at the Singapore Sports School on Wednesday evening.

Irfan Fandi, son of Fandi Ahmad, at a training session for the National Football Academy Under-16s. (Photo: 25th Canon Lion City Cup)

Perhaps some of the buzz can be attributed to the presence of their ace in the pack, Irfan. The eldest son of Singapore’s most legendary footballer comes fresh off two months of training at the academy of Spanish second-division side Hércules FC.

How did he share his European exploits with his Singaporean mates? “The team is starting to play faster,” said Irfan.

On an individual level, the curly-haired forward coolly acknowledged that he’s “expected to score goals”, but added that he’s “just there to play for the team.”

Teammate Adam was more inclined to talk up Irfan’s contribution on the pitch: “He really has the finishing touch. (With him), we are more clinical in front of goal.”

The 1.92m-tall centre-back, whose dad Nazri was a successful captain of the national team and now coaches the Singapore Under-15s, is targeting a run to at least the semi-finals of the Cup.

He spoke of the lessons the team gleaned from a round of friendly matches in Japan last week. “We really have a lot to do in Singapore to go up to (the Japanese) standard,” said the lanky defender.

Recounting their final game against older opponents from Japanese League top division side Cerezo Osaka’s U-18 squad, Adam said: “We did well even though we lost. In the first and last 20 to 30 minutes we held them and they didn’t have any idea what to do.”

“If we do that against Arsenal in the Lion City Cup, I think we can go far,” he added cheerfully.

Adam Hakeem, son of Nazri Nasir, training at the Singapore Sports School ahead of the Lion City Cup. (Photo: 25th Canon Lion City Cup)

Teammate Ribiyanda echoed Adam’s optimism, but on a larger scale, when he spoke of their Japan experience as “really good inspiration”.

“We want to play that kind of (Japanese) football when we’re older,” said the diminutive winger. “And play in the J-League or for any European club one day.”

Does Irfan think his teammates can follow in his footsteps to Europe? “Of course,” he said. “They just have to train hard.”

For now, Ribiyanda summed up the general sentiment when he said: “(The Lion City Cup) is the first step towards professional (football) so I just want to play well… and have fun like I did when I was a kid.”

There was no shortage of fun among the boys that evening, with Irfan often at the centre of their merrymaking.

When asked if he had adopted a “big brother” leadership role on the field, Irfan solemnly replied: “No. I’m not the big brother. I’m the biggest brother.”

As Adam protested vigorously, animated laughter rang loudly from Ribiyanda and all around. Singapore will be hoping that the mood in the camp remains as high over the coming days of the Lion City Cup.

Coach Robin Chitrakar rallies his troops for the impending Lion City Cup. (Photo: 25th Canon Lion City Cup)

The 25th Canon Lion City Cup takes place from 8 June to 16 June at Jalan Besar Stadium. Tickets are on sale now at all AXS machines island-wide, the Ticketbooth website, as well as at all Ticketbooth outlets. Tickets start from $7 for youths and senior citizens and $20 for Grandstand.