Hariss: 2034 World Cup is possible

A. VISHNU VARDNI

Football runs in Hariss Harun's (right) blood.

The national team captain, who made history in 2007 when he became the Lions' youngest player at the age 16 years and 217 days, can't imagine leaving the sport.

The 31-year-old, who has 109 international caps, told tabla! he would continue to contribute to Singapore football even after retiring as a player.

The midfielder is in excellent form for the national team and the Singapore Premier League side Lion City Sailors, whom he joined last year after a seven-year stint in Malaysia.

As player and captain for Johor Darul Ta'zim, he saw the Malaysian side expand its trophy trove, including the Malaysian Super League triumph in 2015.

But Hariss knows international careers can end for players after their mid-30s, so he is future-proofing himself beyond the football field - he is pursuing a bachelor's degree in business management at PSB Academy.

On the pitch, Hariss still has plenty to offer to the national team and Sailors, and is focused on doing his best for them. He feels encouraged by the improved sports facilities in Singapore, the increased government support for sports and the enthusiasm with which the local fans greeted him on his return to Singapore.

"With everyone consistently working hard and together, I believe our team can make it to the World Cup in 2034," said the father-of-three.

"Even if we slip, there is no doubt the team will keep fighting and still can achieve other milestones."

Hariss is grateful to his wife and family for supporting him in his various commitments. He pointed out that his father and uncle encouraged him to pursue football, and he now wants to impart his love for the sport to his children and grandchildren.

"Parents need to inculcate in children the appreciation of play and the outdoors rather than emphasising on the technical aspects of competitive sport," he said.

"In this digital age, it proves difficult for young parents like me to introduce the art of playing with the mind and heart to young children."

Hariss has faced many challenges in his career but he was not cowed. Despite the serious injuries he suffered, he never thought of walking away from football.

When asked about his most memorable match, Hariss recounted his experience at the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final second leg against Indonesia last year.

Even when the Lions were down to eight players - after three players were sent off - the side showed tenacity and fighting spirit, he said.

The cheer and support from the fans at the National Stadium on Christmas Day despite the 2-4 defeat (the Lions were knocked out 3-5 on aggregate) will always be with him.

"At that moment, I felt very proud to be captaining the Lions, who fought like real lions," said Hariss.

The 2011 Asian Cup qualifiers was another memorable event for Hariss.

Singapore narrowly missed out on the finals for the first time, losing 1-2 to Jordan. The Lions needed only a draw at the King Abdullah Stadium in Amman to qualify.

Hariss believes next year's Asian Cup qualifiers is important as Singapore will hope to qualify for the finals. "Players of my age have only a few more years left on the pitch. We hope to lead the team to greater heights and make history," he said.

vishnuv@sph.com.sg

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