Defensive headache for Stange
German's decision on where to play Hariss could decide outcome of clash with Malaysia
Singapore national football coach Bernd Stange will know by now how Malaysia coach Dollah Salleh went for broke against Thailand, throwing on his three top strikers Safee Sali, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Amri Yahyah from the start.
He would have watched the video of the AFF Suzuki Cup Group B clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium and will have taken note how Malaysia's Safiq Rahim pulled the strings in midfield and the two good goals the Tigers scored.
Win tomorrow's Causeway battle and Singapore will be through to the semi-finals, while a draw would also be enough for the Lions to progress unless Myanmar shock Thailand with a four-goal win in the other group game.
Stange's men cannot afford to lose, which makes an elusive clean sheet vital.
Stange will no doubt be mulling over who best to partner Safuwan Baharudin in the heart of the defence, after Baihakki Khaizan's second yellow card in the Myanmar clash meant he is suspended for the big game.
In the first match against Thailand, he redeployed star midfielder Hariss Harun in defence after taking out Baihakki, opting against fielding inexperienced 18-year-old Amirul Adli.
While Hariss stood tall alongside Safuwan, his absence left a gaping hole in the engine room.
Singapore skipper Shahril Ishak feels that Hariss needs to be in midfield because of his physical presence and work rate.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Shahril said: "Hariss is a true box-to-box midfielder, who can switch from defence to attack.
"You just need to see how he played against Myanmar - not just the way he scored two goals, but also how he controlled the engine room and you understand his importance to us in that position."
Stange also has the option of using Shakir Hamzah, who came on for fellow left back Shaiful Esah against Thailand, and Afiq Yunos, who was surprisingly left out of back-to-back matchday squads.
Shakir has played as centre back for the LionsXII while Afiq is a central defender, but using players who are raw in the position against a desperate Malaysian attack could be a huge risk.
Hariss admitted that he would be more comfortable to play in midfield, but says he is more at ease as a centre back these days after playing in that position with the national team, LionsXII and current club Johor Darul Ta'zim.
But Baihakki feels the one to partner Safuwan should be a toss-up between Shakir and Afiq.
He said: "We have experienced this kind of tactical shuffling before in the LionsXII.
"Afiq would be suitable if the coach wants to go for a one-for-one replacement, because he is a natural centre back who has height and good physical presence.
"Shakir, on the other hand, is a utility defender who also has experience playing at centre back, despite being a left back. He is dynamic and has relatively more match time than Afiq.
"The good news for us is both of them have a good understanding with Safuwan, because they have played together at Young Lions and LionsXII."
Both Shakir and Afiq are chomping at the bit for the chance to take part in the first Causeway Derby at the new National Stadium.
Shakir said: "This is our final group match and we are taking it as a must-win game.
"It was an awesome experience playing in my first Suzuki Cup, a big Asean tournament in front of the home fans. The pace of the game is very fast and whether we start or come on as a substitute, we cannot lose concentration.
"We know Malaysia's strengths and weaknesses.
"Norshahrul is a forward who likes to bring the ball to the byeline and take defenders on, while Safee is a strong striker who knows where to run and get into good scoring positions.
"But we know each other's style of play and we are well prepared. If I'm called on to play, I'm ready and I'll do my best for the team."
Hariss is a true boxto- box midfielder, who can switch from defence to attack.
— Lions captain Shahril Ishak, on Hariss Harun
Zulfahmi hopes for another chance
Refreshingly honest, Singapore midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin yesterday admitted he "did badly" in the 4-2 win over Myanmar on Wednesday.
He told The New Paper: "Defensively, I didn't do my job well, even though attacking-wise I thought I did okay."
The 23-year-old (above) had to be thrown on abruptly as a 24th-minute substitute after Shahdan Sulaiman suffered a horrific ankle break, and he was the subject of criticism after twice conceding possession that eventually led to Myanmar scoring twice in the second half.
With Shahdan's injury, Zulfahmi could get a chance to make amends tomorrow in the blockbuster Causeway Derby.
If called upon, most likely to play alongside Hariss Harun in central midfield, the LionsXII midfielder aims to put up a much better performance, even though he concedes defending is not his strong suit.
"At this level, I know I can't rely only on my attacking strengths. I have to improve on my defensive aspect, too," he said.
"I won't let the last game get me down. I'm thankful to my coaches and teammates who have been encouraging me.
"I'm motivated and mentally prepared to play against Malaysia.
"We are going for the win and we won't be sitting back."
After also coming on in Singapore's 1-2 defeat by Thailand on Sunday, Zulfahmi does look to be Singapore coach Bernd Stange's first-choice replacement for Shahdan.
But there is also the option of Hafiz Abu Sujad, who was left out of the matchday squad against Myanmar.
Central defender Baihakki Khaizan, who is suspended, said: "Malaysia's Gary Robbat is back from suspension and Safiq Rahim played well against Thailand, so it will be exciting to see Hariss and whoever he partners do battle against them."
Singapore skipper Shahril Ishak said: "Both are good players. Hafiz is more versatile because he has defensive experience playing as left back, left midfielder and central midfielder.
"Zulfahmi is a more like a playmaker who can play that defence-splitting pass."
Hariss, the star man for Singapore so far, backed Zulfahmi to bounce back.
The 24-year-old, who scored a pair of thumping volleys against Myanmar, said: "He was a young player in the 2012 winning team and now he has to prove himself, so there is definitely some pressure there.
"He has got good physique, good distribution and a good shot. I'm sure he will play to his potential, if given another chance.
"Hafiz is more aggressive and doesn't shy away from challenges. He also has a good shot, so it's good that we have capable options."
We still have a job to do against Malaysia and it is time for the team to step up to get the result we need to progress.
— Singapore midfield star Hariss Harun