Two senior Lions can play in this year's SEA Games
Age-group ruling tweaked for biennial meet, but Singapore U-22 coach Fandi believes it could benefit others teams more
Singapore national football captain Hariss Harun never thought he would get another chance to play in the South-east Asia (SEA) Games, after winning his third bronze medal in 2013.
But now, with a change in rules that allows each team to field two over-age players at the Nov 30-Dec 11 Games in the Philippines, the 28-year-old midfielder may get another shot.
When asked if he would answer the call if Singapore Under-22 coach Fandi Ahmad wants him in the squad, Hariss said: "It will always be an honour to represent the country and I'll give Fandi the support.
"But, you have to keep in mind that the SEA Games is not a Fifa tournament. It's subjected to my club's approval to release me... and a lot of decisions have to be made."
Hariss plies his trade in the Malaysian Super League with Johor Darul Ta'zim.
Since 2001, the SEA Games football competition has been an U-23 or U-22 event.
However, Article 3.3 of the technical handbook released last month by this year's organisers listed that "a maximum of two players born before 1 Jan 1997 are eligible to participate".
The Singapore National Olympic Council and the Football Association of Singapore confirmed that they have been notified of the change in ruling.
Besides Hariss, Fandi also has the option of calling up other senior Lions such as defender Safuwan Baharudin and even goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.
When contacted, Fandi told TNP that he will be mulling over which senior players to call up, adding that the change "makes for a unique situation".
"It's an advantage for us but more advantage for other teams as well," said the 56-year-old icon, who admitted last year that Singapore are five years behind our neighbours.
"You can see it as a good thing… but for us, it's good, for others, it would be better. Other countries have strong players to bring in."
He was referring to teams such as the Philippines, who can call up their naturalised foreigners, while defending champions Thailand could bolster their squad with Japan-based stars such as Chanathip Songkrasin and Theerathon Bunmathan.
Hariss agreed with Fandi but added that "two players don't make up a team".
"It would help them with experience and guidance... but in the end, it's about how the team prepares and how much they want to win," he said.
Singapore have never won the SEA Games football gold, finishing second three times (1983, 1985 and 1989), with Fandi playing in all three finals.
Since then, the Republic have collected only six bronzes in 14 editions.
The last podium finish was six years ago in Myanmar, where Hariss scored two goals in two minutes to help Singapore pip Malaysia 2-1 in the bronze medal play-off.
When asked which over-age players he will be considering, Fandi said: "I'm not too focused on that now.
"I'm focusing on bringing up and developing the current young players and we'll probably identify the two by June or July, to see whether they are able to commit and (look at) many other factors."
Fandi's Singapore U-22 team showed positive results at last month's Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship qualifiers in Mongolia with a win and two draws - their best showing in four editions.
However, they failed to qualify for next year's Finals due to insufficient points.
Several players in the U-22 squad expressed delight that they will be playing alongside their seniors at the SEA Games.
Young Lions goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad initially thought the change in rules was "a crazy idea" before seeing the bigger picture.
"It's up to the coach who he decides to pick... and very hard to say, but for me, personally, including Safuwan or Hariss would be really good," he said.
Young Lions captain Joshua Pereira agreed, adding that the two versatile Lions would provide much guidance to the team.
"They are the two most experienced national players we have at the moment," he said.
Defender Irfan Najeeb, meanwhile, is hoping to play at the biennial meet alongside his uncle - veteran forward Shahril Ishak.
He said: "He is experienced and I look up to him a lot for his personality and character."