Singapore midfielder Hariss Harun has praised his club captain Safiq Rahim and vowed to win the AFC Cup for the diehard fans of Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).
The Malaysian club face Istiklol FC, of Tajikistan, in the AFC Cup final in Dushanbe on Oct. 31 after Kuwaiti sides Al-Qadsia and Al-Kuwait were eliminated from the semifinals because of Kuwait's FIFA suspension.
Hariss is relishing the opportunity to play in an Asian final after becoming the first Singaporean to win three consecutive Malaysia Super League (MSL) titles. In 2013, he was part of the successful LionsXII side before continuing his hot streak with champions JDT over the past two seasons.
"It (making the AFC Cup final) really means a lot to me," Hariss said. "I'm very happy for myself but even more so for the team. It was very unexpected and in a way lucky as to how we got to the final.
"But now that we are in it, we are going all out to win it."
One of JDT's strengths is strong support from the club's diehard fans who have packed Larkin Stadium to the rafters this season.
Known as the 'Boys from the Straits', the boisterous Southern Tigers' fans create a special match day atmosphere. Having won them over with his never-say-die attitude on the pitch, Hariss is keen to repay their faith by helping Johor become the first Malaysian side to win the prestigious trophy.
He said: "This is really big for the club and the fans. The JDT fans have been incredible and are very much part of the club's success and we really want to win the final for them. JDT is a very ambitious club and definitely heading in the right direction."
A loyal bunch of JDT fans will make the long trip to Takijistan for the final where Istiklol will be backed by a partisan home crowd. 24-year-old Hariss played at the Pamir Stadium in Dushanbe in 2007 when Singapore faced Tajikistan in an AFC World Cup qualifier so he's well aware of the psychological advantage for Istiklol.
"Sure, it won't be easy but champions are made of tough material and we have to prove that we are worthy of that tag," said Hariss. "It'll definitely be a boost and an advantage (for them) to play at home."
"I'm sure they are pleased about it but this is a major cup final and we, as JDT, are going to Takijistan to try and win it."
Istiklol will go into the final high on confidence, having won the 2015 Tajik Super Cup in addition to the Tajik League and Tajik Cup.
Coach Mubin Ergashev will be looking to Spanish striker Manuel Bleda Rodriguez and club captain Jakhongir Jalilov.
As for the MSL giants, they go into battle with one of Southeast Asia's top midfield partnerships in the form of club captain Safiq Rahim and Hariss. Along with that dynamic duo,
JDT will be sweating on the availability of former Argentina international Luciano Figueroa who is waiting for the outcome of the club's appeal against his suspension.
He added: "A key player for us is Figueroa, if his suspension is cleared. Marcos [Antonio] and Aidil [Zafuan] have also been doing very well as a central defensive partnership so they will have a big role too.
"Safiq is a very good player and this season, he has been scoring many goals too. He likes to get involved in the game and get forward, so that makes my job to sit in midfield and cover him. The way he rallies the team is also a strong part of his game and I think he will be a very important player for us in the final."
JDT are trying to become the first ever Southeast Asian club to win a major Asian trophy, thus stopping the West Asian dominance of the competition. Should JDT manage to achieve that, Hariss -- with the help of captain marvel Safiq -- will write his name in the history books as Singapore's only AFC Cup winner.