Football: For limping Lions, the only way is up, says national captain Hariss Harun

Ben Davis of Fulham Under-18s, who earned his first national team call-up, closing down PKNS player Faris Ramli in training as coach V. Sundram Moorthy observes. There are 10 overseas-based players in the squad.
Ben Davis of Fulham Under-18s, who earned his first national team call-up, closing down PKNS player Faris Ramli in training as coach V. Sundram Moorthy observes. There are 10 overseas-based players in the squad.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

National skipper is confident of beating Maldives once more to end team's 13-match winless run

The Singapore football team will tonight try to win their first match of the year, something that they did not manage in 2017.

In the Maldives, a team against whom they have a perfect record of five wins, the Lions appear to have the best chance in 14 attempts of victory which they last tasted in November 2016.

But how fortunes have reversed, even by the quirks of the Fifa world rankings. The last time the teams met in 2011, the Maldives were four spots behind at 148th. The tables are now turned, with the Lions 21 places below them at 171st.

There are shades of 2011 going into the National Stadium friendly.

Seven years ago, the Maldives - also an island nation but with a population of less than 500,000 - were also their first opponents after exiting the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup at the group stage.

They won 4-0 at Jalan Besar to spark a good run of results before going on to lift the 2012 Suzuki Cup.

This time, Singapore are similarly on a low after crashing out of the 2016 AFF Cup group stage and failing to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup Finals.

This is the Lions' first game after four months of inactivity and captain Hariss Harun, who at 20 became the youngest national skipper in that friendly win over the Maldives in 2011, is eyeing a victory to turn the corner.

UP FOR A FIGHT

We are the underdogs and maybe Singapore picked us because they wanted easy opponents. But, believe me, we will try to make it very hard for Singapore.

PETAR SEGRT, the Maldives' German coach, who promises an open game from his team.

The midfielder, 27, said: "The only way is up. Technically, we are not at the same level as some of our opponents, but we can be better than them in terms of organisation, tactical awareness and cohesion.

"We have players like Khairul Amri, Faris Ramli and Shawal Anuar who can make a difference in the final third. The rest of the team must work together to create more chances for them and help them be more confident.

"Last year was not easy for us... but it's all about how we react and pick ourselves up. We have to be confident because we can then play better and achieve the results we want."

Maldives coach Petar Segrt, 11 days into his new job, was bullish at yesterday's pre-match press conference despite dropping 32-year-old skipper and top scorer Ali Ashfaq in favour of a younger team with an average age of 24.

"We must dream... We will play an open game and (to win) 3-2 for us is a target," said the 51-year-old German, who had masterminded a 2-1 win over the Lions as Afghanistan coach two years ago.

"We are the underdogs and maybe Singapore picked us because they wanted easy opponents. But, believe me, we will try to make it very hard for Singapore.

IT'S ABOUT TIME

It depends on the performance and, with a bit of luck, I hope to turn the corner and get the win. That's important for our confidence.

V. SUNDRAM MOORTHY, Singapore coach, whose goal-shy side have scored a mere seven goals in their last 13 internationals.

"To play for 0-0 and sit on our backs, that's not me."

Shortly after, V. Sundram Moorthy took to the stage. With a new year and new players called up, one wonders if the national coach would adopt a new approach in a bid to end his side's dismal run that has seen only seven goals scored.

"Like what I always say, we will assess the opponent and we will play to the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent... we will go against every opponent with a different plan," said the 52-year-old, who will use the game as a warm-up for Tuesday's inconsequential final Asian Cup qualifier away to Chinese Taipei.

"It depends on the performance and, with a bit of luck, I hope to turn the corner and get the win. That's important for our confidence."

In a bid to overturn fortunes, he has dropped veterans Shahril Ishak, Daniel Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin but recalled another old hand, defender Baihakki Khaizan.

He also handed a first call-up to Fulham Under-18s attacker Ben Davis and drafted in eight other overseas-based players.

They include the Thai-based trio of Army United goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, Nongbua Pitchaya custodian Izwan Mahbud and Chonburi midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin.

Johor Darul Takzim's Hariss, Pahang's Safuwan Baharudin, PKNS FC's Faris Ramli and Melaka United's Shahdan Sulaiman have also been key in their teams' surge to the top four in the Malaysian Super League.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2018, with the headline 'For Lions, only way is up: Hariss'. Print Edition | Subscribe