Duo to fire up Lions' engine

Duo to fire up Lions' engine
The return of midfielders Safuwan Baharudin (left) and Hariss Harun is a welcome boost for Singapore's national football team.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The return from suspension of Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin for tomorrow's clash against Cambodia will give Singapore a much-needed octane boost.

Their absence was keenly felt in last week's stuttering display against Afghanistan. But they will form a crucial midfield platform for the Lions as national coach Bernd Stange eyes a third victory in Group E of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Calling them the team's engine, the German said at yesterday's training session at Geylang Field: "Just count the goals of Safuwan, count the crucial goals he scored and his role in our LionsXII team.

"Hariss is a member of the Malaysian champions. He's tough and always ready to perform on the international level.

"We don't have enough (players of such calibre). Other players have to step up, they have to work harder and do more every single day."

The versatile Safuwan, who began his career as a defender but has been moved forward to a more attacking role by LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad, has bagged 13 goals this year. The 24-year-old has also scored four times in his last three club matches and was on target twice when Singapore beat Cambodia 4-0 in Phnom Penh in June.

Hariss, 24, was named among the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Best XI at the AFF awards ceremony in August and has played a key role in Johor Darul Takzim's Malaysian Super League-winning campaign and their run to the AFC Cup semi-finals this season.

Said the Lions vice-captain: "We're both box-to-box players and hopefully we can help the team play at a quicker tempo on Tuesday."

Added defender Baihakki Khaizan: "Both Hariss and Safuwan are playing at their peak for club and country and they give us a lot of options in midfield with their drive and energy."

Nothing less than three points against the 186th-ranked Cambodians will do, said Stange, as he seeks to steer world No. 157 Singapore to the Asian Cup for the first time.

And judging by his formation deployed in last night's training which featured an attacking trident of forwards Khairul Amri, Sahil Suhaimi and Faris Ramli, he will also demand his players go for the jugular.

With seven points, the Lions are third in the group behind Japan (10 points) and Syria (nine). They aim to finish as one of four best runners-up from the eight groups and qualify directly for the 2019 Asian Cup, as well as the third round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

It could come down to goal difference between the Lions and Syria, who have scored 13 times in four matches, said Hariss.

"We will try and score as many as we can, but the most important thing is to get points," he said. "We could be in second place after Tuesday and that puts us in a strong position heading into November which will be a big month for us."

The Lions will host Japan and Syria at the National Stadium on Nov 12 and 17 respectively.

Added Hariss: "The players definitely believe qualifying for the Asian Cup is now a possibility."


This article was first published on October 12, 2015.
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