Lions count on leader Hariss against Syria
More mature these days, Hariss will once again be the key figure for Stange's side tonight
SYRIA v SINGAPORE
(Tonight, 11.55pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 & MediaCorp okto)
MUSCAT: Just 22 at the time, Hariss Harun, who had been instrumental in the LionsXII's run to the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title a few months earlier, played like a titan in a storming individual performance as Singapore stunned Syria 2-1 in an Asian Cup qualifier at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Oct 2013.
Much has changed for the Lions stalwart since.
Today, the 24-year-old is one of the key figures for Johor Darul Ta'zim in the MSL and helped the side retain their domestic title this year, making it three winners' medals in succession for the midfield star.
He has a lucrative contract, is happily married and is a father.
And he is the most important player in the Singapore side.
If Bernd Stange's Lions are to come away from their World Cup Group E qualifier against Syria tonight here in Muscat, Oman, Hariss will have to be his usual influential self.
As always, the Singapore captain is looking forward to the challenge, while keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
"I'm humbled by everything that has happened, but I keep telling myself football has its ups and downs," he told The New Paper last night, just before the Lions' training session at the Sultan Qaboos Stadium.
"People may talk about the highs of winning MSL titles and so on, but there have been lows like picking up serious injuries and missing major tournaments... These things keep me grounded.
"They teach me lessons about how to pick myself up and come back stronger each time."
Hariss tied the knot with Syahirah Mohamad in March last year, and the couple celebrated the birth of a boy, Naufal, last December.
While goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud deservedly earn the plaudits after an outstanding performance in the shock 0-0 draw with Japan in Saitama in June, the skipper's display in the engine room against the best midfielders from the Blue Samurai was also vital.
He more than held his own, keeping the ball, staying calm to launch attacks, and often disrupting the opposition with his tigerish tackles and wonderful ability to read the game.
Hariss says fatherhood has changed him.
"It has made me more responsible... Now I have a family who rely on me," said the player, who will pick up his 56th cap tonight.
"Of course, my wife, my son and my parents are also my pillars of strength.
"Now, every time I go out on the pitch, I just want to do my best for my family.
"On long trips away like this, I definitely miss my baby, but this is the nature of the job, a sacrifice we players have to make.
"At the same time, (missing loved ones) keeps me going, and it makes me want to make the trip more worthwhile.
"Having come all the way here, you don't want to just lie down and get beaten."
Hariss has extra reason to want to return home with a positive result.
Singapore are in an unfamiliar position at the top of their qualifying group after two games, after a 4-0 thumping of Cambodia in Phnom Penh and the draw with Japan.
The players have shown drive and determination in training, as they strive to finish as one of the top two teams in the group, a feat that would all but book them a spot at the 2019 Asian Cup.
Said Hariss: "The first two games have been a real boost for us, and there is a real belief growing around the team that we can do it.
"After tomorrow, we have four home games that can be an advantage to us.
"But the whole qualification process is a very long one, and we'll have to take one game at a time.
"For now, we are focused on getting something out of tomorrow's game, and we are confident we can do it."
- Singapore's probable line-up: Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Baihakki Khaizan, Shaiful Esah, Fazrul Nawaz, Hariss Harun, Izzdin Shafiq, Safuwan Baharudin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Khairul Amri
The first two games have been a real boost for us, and there is a real belief growing around the team that we can do it.
- Lions midfielder Hariss Harun, on trying to help Singapore finish as one of the top two teams in Group E