Asian Cup Qualifier: In with the big boys

SINGAPORE - By his own admission, he was a "naughty boy" in school but, thankfully, he has found a role mentor who keeps him in check, and shows him the route to the top.

M Anumanthan still falters occasionally, but Singapore vice-captain Hariss Harun, his senior at St Gabriel's Secondary School, is consistently there to drag him back on the straight and narrow.

The 19-year-old could well taste action tomorrow when Singapore face Oman in Muscat in the Republic's final Asian Cup Group A qualifier, and he is looking forward to the opportunity of teaming up with Hariss in the engine room.

"It would be special to play alongside Hariss," the youngster told The New Paper on Monday.

"When I joined St Gabriel's in Secondary One, he was four years ahead of me.

ROLE MODEL

"He still teases me for being a naughty boy before, but he was a role model when I was in school and continues to be today."

Hariss became Singapore's youngest international in 2005 when he made his debut for the Lions against North Korea aged just 16 years and 217 days.

The powerful central midfielder was part of the LionsXII side that won the Malaysian Super League last season and is now on the books of moneybags Johor Darul Ta'zim.

Hariss is one of the first names on national coach Bernd Stange's teamsheet but, with Oman and Jordan having already secured qualification for the 2015 Asian Cup finals in Australia, the Muscat fixture is purely academic for cellar- dwellers Singapore, the German coach may at some stage tomorrow throw on players he thinks will be the Singapore team of the future - with Anumanthan right in the mix.

Stange handed the Courts Young Lions regular his first cap when he threw him on in the 70th minute against Oman last August.

That was Stange's first game in charge of the Lions, and Anumanthan already has three caps to his name.

Tough in the tackle and versatile, the footballer is coming into his own, but there are still issues he has to iron out.

He turned up after the reporting time for the Courts Young Lions' clash with Tampines Rovers in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League on Sunday, and coach Aide Iskandar used him only as a substitute.

"I came late because I had family issues to deal with," said Anumanthan.

"But I'm thankful that my teammates didn't hold it against me, and that coach Aide told me to focus only on the game.

"I will aim to not let things like this affect my football.

"I've been told to take more responsibility with the Young Lions, and I look forward to taking on that responsibility."

He has already been deployed as a centre back and, while his favoured position is in central midfield, Anumanthan is willing to play wherever the coaches want him to.

"I will play anywhere for my team. It is an honour to play for my country and I still get a little bit nervous every time," he said.

"I want to learn as much as possible and grow as a player and a person. And I want to eventually play abroad."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


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