Interviews

Hariss confident JDT can continue Malaysian momentum and make Champions League history

Outside of the under-22 team’s surprising run to SEA Games silver on home soil back in August, there was little to like about 2017 for Malaysian football fans.

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The senior national team continued to struggle, going winless throughout the entire year, meaning their last win was against Cambodia at the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), the flag bearer for Malaysian football over the last few years, also struggled on the continent, getting knocked out of the AFC Cup in the zonal semi-finals to Filipino side Ceres-Negros.

It shows they have players to come into the national team. They’ve made themselves and Malaysia proud

- Hariss Harun on the Young Tigers

For a side which won the tournament in 2015 and made the semi-finals in 2016, it was a humbling loss and just added to the misery for fans in Malaysia.

But 2018 brings with it fresh hope and already spirits have been lifted after the remarkable achievements of their under-23 side at the ongoing AFC U23 Championships.

Most people viewed just making the tournament for the first time as a feather in the cap for Malaysia, but few expected the Young Tigers to progress from the group stage.

Having done so, even fewer expected them to take it to South Korea in the quarter-final, especially having conceded after just 15 seconds.

Ceres knocked JDT out of last year's AFC Cup

But instead of capitulating they dug deep and turned in one of the best displays of the tournament, showing there is hope yet for Malaysian football.

“I think it was an immense result for Malaysia,” JDT midfielder Hariss Harun told FourFourTwo.

I think we really have to push to be in the Champions League. We have the ability, so we have to do a job

“Especially at under-23, that’s the level below the national team so it shows they have players to come into the national team. They’ve made themselves and Malaysia proud.”

With everyone in Malaysia still riding high, Harun and his JDT teammates will be looking to continue the bright start to the season when they travel to Bangkok to take on Thai giants Muangthong United in the second preliminary round of AFC Champions League qualifying.

Harun has returned to JDT after a season on loan in Singapore with Home United and is confident they can get the job done, not just against Muangthong United, but again next week against Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol.

“We’re a big club in Malaysia, it’s very important for the image and the profile of the club,” he said of playing in Asia.

“I think we really have to push to be in the Champions League. We have the ability, so we have to do a job to help the club and push the club to greater heights.”

[NEXT PAGE: A closer look at JDT's Champions League opponents]

Hariss spent last season back on home soil. Photo: Home United