Suzuki Cup: Singapore captain Hariss Harun buoyed by victories but urges caution

Singapore captain Hariss Harun (right) celebrating with teammates after scoring the opening goal against the Philippines on Dec 8, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The Lions are in buoyant mood after two wins in as many matches to start their Suzuki Cup campaign. And while national skipper Hariss Harun could not stop smiling after opening the scoring in Singapore's latest victory - a 2-1 win over the Philippines on Wednesday (Dec 8) - he urged caution despite the Lions being in prime position to qualify for the semi-finals.

They now sit atop Group A with six points, three ahead of Myanmar and Thailand, although the Thais have played just one game. Singapore face minnows Timor-Leste on Dec 14.

Hariss said: "Of course, we are in a good way and there is optimism in the squad. We have gone out and got the results and points we needed from the first two matches. Most importantly, each and every player believes in each other.

"But we also know that we can still improve. Our best is yet to come and at the same time, we know that we still have a lot of obstacles in our way.

"Thailand are a great team and we have yet to play them and in the other group, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam are all superb sides.

"We have to stay focused."

The 31-year-old's cautious optimism is in stark contrast his sentiments just five weeks ago.

Then, not only had he picked up a quadriceps injury on Oct 10, the final day of the Singapore Premier League season, he went on to contract Covid-19 in early November, causing him to miss the team's training camp in Dubai.

But despite his lack of match practice - the Lions' Suzuki Cup opener against Myanmar on Sunday was his first match since Oct 10 - he has not skipped a beat with his energetic performances in the middle of the park for the Lions. He is also one of only four outfield players including Shakir Hamzah, Safuwan Baharudin and Irfan Fandi who have completed both Suzuki Cup matches.

Said Hariss, who was seen cramping up in the final minutes of the Myanmar game: "To be honest, it has been difficult because my last match was so long ago. With the injury and Covid, I was quite worried because I was not sure how I would feel in the matches.

"It was mentally exhausting before the tournament because I had seen the doctor for my injury and the diagnosis was that it would take four weeks to recover. But two weeks in, I still did not have my full range of movement, so a lot of thoughts ran through my mind. But that's normal, people won't see what you go through. My friends and family were there to keep my spirits up."

The Lions were without Hariss for five of coach Tatsuma Yoshida's 16 matches at the helm, all of which came this year. They lost four and drew once in his absence. With Hariss in his ranks, Yoshida has a 45 per cent win rate.

The Japanese said: "There are other leaders in the team but Hariss is Hariss.

"It was very important that he came back. On the pitch, he brings the energy and fighting spirit. He's not had much match time in the last two months but he overcame that with his mental strength."

The coach noted that even off the pitch, the captain remained the voice of the squad. After Wednesday's tough battle with the Philippines, Hariss had requested if the squad could report for breakfast the next morning an hour later than usual.

Added Yoshida: "He is a natural leader and is always exemplary with his behaviour. He is always giving me his opinion of the team. The team respects him highly."

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