Ilhan Fandi has ‘unfinished business’ as he returns to Lions squad after knee injury
The last time Ilhan Fandi was in a Lions kit, the 20-year-old forward was seen punching the artificial turf at the Jalan Besar Stadium in frustration and ruefully shaking his head before he was helped off the pitch.
Nine gruelling months, marked by pain and perseverance, followed as he healed from a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
On Monday, Ilhan’s return to action for the Singapore national team edged closer, after he was named in head coach Takayuki Nishigaya’s 25-man squad for the two-legged Fifa World Cup and Asian Cup first round qualifier against Guam.
The Republic face Guam at the National Stadium on Oct 12 before the return leg five days later at the Guam Football Association’s National Training Center in Harmon. The winners will progress to round two of the qualifiers to face China, South Korea and Thailand in Group C.
Ilhan , who has two goals in nine international caps, had been on the sidelines since suffering that injury in Singapore’s 0-0 draw with Vietnam in an Asean Football Federation championship group stage match last December.
He returned to full training in August with his club, second division Belgian side KMSK Deinze, and featured in his first competitive match, for the team’s Under-21 side, on Sept 23 when he scored a goal and won a penalty in a 4-2 win over Lommel U-21.
Speaking to The Straits Times from Deinze, Ilhan said: “I have unfinished business. I felt that I was really having a good momentum and was in good form before the injury. I want to pick up from where I left off.
“To play for the national team is always an honour and I can’t wait to come back and help the team in two very important matches. I like to think of what happened as god’s plan that there are even better times ahead after this tough period.”
Prior to his injury, 2022 was a breakout year for Ilhan. He scored 20 goals in 27 Singapore Premier League (SPL) and Singapore cup matches for Albirex Niigata in a season which culminated with three trophies at the Football Association of Singapore Awards Night where he was honoured as the SPL Young Player of the Year, claimed the Goal of the Year award and named in the SPL Team of the Year.
He then earned a dream European move to Deinze, where he has a contract that runs till June 2024. “It has been one of the toughest periods. It is never easy to get such a serious injury especially when you are a young player but I have been blessed with the support of family and friends,” he said.
“I am naturally a very positive person so I got on with it, listened to the advice of the good people that I surrounded myself with. Now I am just very eager to get my first start for Deinze and start helping the national team again.”
His brothers Irfan, 26, and Ikhsan, 24 – who play for Thai side BG Pathum – are still unavailable. The former recently suffered a setback in his recovery from a calf injury sustained while on club duty in August while Ikhsan is still undergoing rehabilitation from his own knee injury.
Young Lions midfielder Farhan Zulkifli is also back in the senior setup since earning his first and only cap against Malaysia in the 2022 AFF Championship.
Tickets for the Oct 12 Guam match are available via the FAS website and Sistic.
Goalkeepers: Hassan Sunny (Albirex Niigata), Syazwan Buhari (Tampines Rovers), Zharfan Rohaizad (Lion City Sailors)
Defenders: Amirul Adli (Geylang International), M. Anumanthan, Lionel Tan, Christopher van Huizen, Zulqarnaen Suzliman (Sailors), Jacob Mahler (Madura United), Irfan Najeeb, Glenn Kweh (Tampines)
Midfielders: Hariss Harun, Hami Syahin, Adam Swandi (Sailors), Joel Chew, Shah Shahiran (Tampines), Farhan Zulkifli (Young Lions), Shahdan Sulaiman, Zulfahmi Arifin (Hougang United), Song Ui-young (Persebaya Surabaya)
Forwards: Hafiz Nor, Shawal Anuar (Sailors), Iqbal Hussain (Geylang), Daniel Goh (Balestier Khalsa), Ilhan Fandi (KMSK Deinze)