Malaysia Cup: ATM wary of Hariss danger

The LionsXII did not practise penalty kicks yesterday though they bowed out of the Malaysia Cup in the semi-finals last year on spot-kicks. They meet their conquerors then - ATM - again tonight in Selayang. The Singapore outfit have a 1-0 lead in the two-legged tie

There is Shahril Ishak, the talismanic captain and leading scorer for the LionsXII.

There is Isa Halim, the tireless, hard-tackling midfield terrier.

And do not forget Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin, arguably the finest centre-back pairing in South-east Asia.

But ATM coach B. Sathianathan is especially wary of another LionsXII player, ahead of Friday evening's Malaysia Cup quarter-final second leg at the Selayang Stadium in Selangor.

"Hariss Harun," the 55-year-old told The Straits Times. "He's their key player."

And for good reason too.

With the tie finely poised at 1-0 to the Singapore outfit, Hariss will have a major role to play at both ends of the pitch.

Long considered a defensive midfielder, he is no stranger to putting his 1.78m, 73kg frame to good use as a shield in front of the defence line.

But since joining V. Sundramoorthy's side last season, the Singapore international has found himself being pushed further and further forward.

In fact, he is the team's joint top scorer of this Malaysia Cup campaign with two goals to date.

"He brings a balance of attack and defence," Sathianathan said.

"It's very hard to devise a plan to stop him because he doesn't play just one position."

Hariss himself admits that adapting to different roles is a big part of becoming an all-round midfielder.

He is certainly pumped up for this evening's clash as he prepares to take his place in a five-man midfield anchored by the reliable Isa.

"I definitely feel like I can do a job for the team," said the 22-year-old.

With winger Faris Ramli unable to travel owing to national service commitments, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari and Shahril will provide the width. Hariss and Aqhari Abdullah will play just behind striker Shahfiq Ghani.

This was, at least, the side put out by Sundram in Thursday evening's training in Selayang.

However, what was clearly missing in the hour-long session was penalty practice.

After all, it was on spot-kicks that ATM sent the LionsXII crashing out of last year's Cup semi-finals.

When asked about this, Sundram simply said: "We're prepared for extra time and we're prepared for penalties."

He also stopped short of saying that his side will go in search of an away goal, which would ensure that the tie is settled at the end of 90 minutes.

"If we are going to defend for the entire match, it will be a long night for us," he pointed out.

And ATM striker Marlon James is intent on making it a torrid night for Baihakki and Safuwan.

The 36-year-old from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has been a thorn in the LionsXII's side, with three goals in their past five meetings.

And he is desperate to keep up that fine record and fire his side - last year's beaten finalists - back into the last four.

"We're playing a very good team," James noted. "Defensively, the LionsXII are very focused.

"But we want to reach the final again; we will be positive, we will work very hard.

"I think we've got a very good chance."

ATM v LionsXII

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