Hariss Harun, Hassan Sunny prepare for Thailand reunion in January
Former Home United teammates Hariss Harun and Hassan Sunny are set for a January reunion when Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) travel to Thailand to prepare for their AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifier against Muang Thong United.
The Singapore internationals played together for club and country for most of 2017 as the Protectors finished third in the S.League and reached the ASEAN zonal final in the AFC Cup.
But they may now be on opposite sides of the pitch having gone their separate ways.
JDT midfielder Hariss spent most of 2017 on loan at Home United before returning to his parent club, while goalkeeper Hassan has gone back to Thailand to play for Army United, having previously spent two years at the club.
In a strange quirk of fate, JDT have announced that their preseason preparations will include a game against Army United on Jan 10, ensuring that Hariss and Hassan may be sharing the same pitch again.
There will also be an opportunity for Hariss to meet another Singapore teammate as JDT are scheduled to face Zulfahmi Arifin's new club Chonburi on Jan. 13.
Midfielder Zulfahmi has been recruited as the club's dedicated ASEAN import, with the Thai League opening up a place in their squads for one foreign player from the region.
The introduction of this slot has also seen Izwan Mahbud -- Hassan's rival for the Singapore goalkeeping jersey -- join Nongbua Pitchaya in Thailand's second tier.
JDT's third match of the tour takes place against big spending Port FC on Jan. 15. Port have been very busy in the transfer market, capturing Thailand winger Nurul Sriyankem, Indonesian winger Terens Puhiri and the top scorer in the 2017 Thai League season, Dragan Boskovic.
Just eight days later, JDT face Muang Thong in a repeat of the tie that took place at the same stage of the ACL in 2016. That night, the MSL champions put up resilient performance as they held the Kirins to a 0-0 draw before losing in a penalty shootout.
Hariss admits that progressing to the playoff round in the ACL is one of JDT's goals in 2018, as well as continuing their dominance of the domestic game, following a league and Malaysia Cup double in 2017.
"My main focus is to help JDT get through the ACL second qualifying round in mid-January and take on the MSL," Hariss said.
"I played for Home United FC for eight months. It helped me improve my physical strength and give me more confidence after returning to training with JDT before heading to Thailand for preseason next month.
"When we have been the champions for four consecutive seasons, surely JDT will face a bigger challenge. But I'm optimistic that JDT with our players of calibre and experience will retain the title."
Before taking on these challenges, Hariss will first be reunited with some familiar faces as JDT fine tune their preparations for the 2018 season.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK