Football: No room for mistakes, says Hariss ahead of Lions' Asian Cup qualifiers
Three games stand between the Lions and a historic berth at the Asian Cup.
As the national football team prepare to face world No. 95 Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan (114) and Myanmar (152) at the June 8-14 qualifiers in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, captain Hariss Harun knows that "there is no room for mistakes".
With new coach Takayuki Nishigaya at the helm, the 158th ranked Lions are currently in Abu Dhabi for a closed-door friendly against world No. 146 Kuwait on Wednesday (June 1).
Hariss, 31, who is set for a 110th cap on Wednesday, said: "Our objective is to prepare for the Asian Cup. We want to qualify. There are only three matches and there is no room for mistakes.
"We know that the team that makes the least mistakes (in those three matches) will progress so we need to ensure we prepare well. Everyone in the squad is optimistic about the challenge ahead."
Singapore have never qualified for the Asian Cup - the continent's flagship men's tournament - other than a sole appearance in 1984 as hosts. The six group winners and five best second-placed teams will advance to the finals next year.
The qualification tournament is also the first test for Nishigaya, 49, who takes over the reins from compatriot Tatsuma Yoshida.
With a new man at the helm, Hariss said the players have a "spring in their steps" and they are keen to impress Nishigaya, resulting in a higher level of competitiveness and intensity during training sessions.
Nishigaya who spoke with the help of a translator - staff coach and analyst Koichiro Iizuka - told The Straits Tines that training has been positive as he outlined his expectations ahead of his bow.
He said: "In terms of the quality, it has exceeded my expectations. We have to try to win every single game and the match against Kuwait is a good opportunity to see what we can do and how we can improve further."
Although Nishigaya has only conducted two training sessions with the full squad, Hariss noted that there have not been major adjustments as the new coach and his predecessor share similar philosophies of wanting to play possession-based, attacking football.
But the Lions boss differs in wanting the team to press their opponents higher up the pitch and more intensively than under Yoshida, said Hariss.
He added: "We are still getting to know him but he is detailed, and wants us to be quick and aggressive with or without the ball."
Victory against Kuwait will be a tough ask given the Japanese coach's limited time with the team, as well as the Lions' head-to-head record against their rivals. In nine encounters, the Lions have only won once - a 2-0 victory in 2008 in an international friendly.
Singapore have also not fared well against Middle East and Central Asian opponents, with two wins, a draw and seven losses in their last 10 games against such teams.
Nishigaya was aware of the record but pointed to victories against Yemen and Palestine at the World Cup qualifiers in 2019 during Yoshida's tenure. He added: "In the past, the team has gotten wins so we know (we have what it takes) to beat them. I am confident that we can take on those teams."
That belief appears to have rubbed off on the players.
Said Hariss: "Japanese coaches are fearless. They encourage us to take the game to the opponents. We have the belief to take on opponents at higher ranking and that we have the quality to hurt them."