NAYPYIDAW - For years, Hariss Harun was the rising star in Singapore football, playing alongside elder statesmen who admired his calm, control and charisma.
But, whether it was the national side or the LionsXII, he could never call it his team.
This SEA Games side, on the other hand, are very much built around the central midfielder. He is the undisputed general on the field and, in the dressing room, the voice of reason for disputes.
He is the tournament's biggest earner - his reported monthly salary of US$30,000 (S$37,500) at new club Johor Darul Takzim far outstrips what the Games' other footballers earn. In Vietnam, for instance, footballers take home an average of US$2,000 per month.
Tonight, the time has come for Numero Uno to live up to the hype and lead his ailing team-mates into battle against an in-form Vietnam.
Sunday's 1-1 draw against 10-man Laos shocked the Young Lions. Fans blasted the gold-medal hopefuls for wasteful finishing and conceding a sloppy equaliser in the dying minutes.
It was up to captain Hariss to stand up for his team-mates, particularly strikers Sahil Suhaimi and Shahfiq Ghani, who squandered several gilt-edged chances to close out the game.
"Whether it was nerves or over-excitement, the whole team - not just those two boys - lacked belief and composure," he said.
"I've got to make more incisive passes, our full-backs have to time their runs better, our wingers have to be more mobile."
Speaking to The Straits Times after a recovery session at the team hotel yesterday, Hariss - in his final SEA Games - revealed he had a pep-talk with the squad.
"I told them, 'We have the talent, we have the skill, just be more patient and get closer to goal,'" the 23-year-old said.
"In the first half, we pulled the trigger too early and, in the second, we didn't pull it at all." Continue in that vein and they will be slaughtered by the clinical Vietnamese who thrashed Brunei 7-0 in their first game.