Gabriel Tan's AFF Suzuki Cup Diary

Follow all the sights, sounds and colours from the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup with ESPNSTAR.com's Gabriel Tan!

Gabriel Tan

Day 6 (28/11/12) - Wednesdays with Ong Kim Swee

I implore anyone who hasn't read Mitch Albom's best-selling novel "Tuesdays with Morrie" to go out and get a copy because it's an excellent read and remains one of my favourites book of all time.

Although I don't exactly have a dying ex-professor whom I visit every Tuesday to share stories about life, I did spend this evening (Wednesday) with a man I greatly respect in football - Malaysia Under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee.

OKS, or 'coach' as I call him, is one of a number of coaches I've had the pleasure of getting to know well this year during the course of covering the 2012 Great Eastern-YEO's S.League campaign, and I was excited to hear he would be in Bangkok for the Suzuki Cup Group A games as it would provide us the chance to catch up in a non-work setting.

Nonetheless, when most of your life revolves around football, it is perhaps unavoidable that our first meeting in Thailand - between a coach and a journalist - came last Sunday when we convened at the coffee house in my hotel to catch Malaysia vs Singapore.

We met up again today to catch the second round of Group B matches and while I know many football writers who are capable of providing excellent in-depth analysis of the game, it's still very different when you talk tactics with coaches, who are always able to spot the one thing that slips your eye.

Seated alongside him watching Indonesia edge Singapore 1-0, and then Malaysia thumping Laos 4-1, I found myself understanding a lot of decisions I previously didn't agree with.

Of course, putting all that aside, it was also fantastic to watch the region's premier international tournament with someone who also really believes in Southeast Asian football, and unlike last Saturday, I was at least able to congratulate him on a Malaysia victory once the final whistle was blown at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

It's no surprise really that some of the players 'coach' has honed over the last few years all played an important role in Harimau Malaya's victory tonight - Wan Zack Haikal, Mahalli Jasuli and Fadhli Shas.

Next up for Malaysia is a game against Group B leaders Indonesia, where a win will guarantee their place in the semi-finals, and following that, who knows?

A Malaysia-Thailand semi-final is extremely possible at the moment, and even them meeting in the final isn't out of the equation at the moment.

If that does turn out to be the case, I'm hopeful of meeting up with OKS once again in the Thai capital and having a good chat over dinner and coffee.

But considering how strong the War Elephants are looking at the moment, what's less certain is if I'll be able to congratulate him on a Harimau Malaya victory at the end of 90 minutes.

Day 5 (27/11/12) - The Hangover (Part Two)

Firstly, I would like to start today's entry by thanking everyone who has given me fantastic feedback on my coverage of the Suzuki Cup, including this diary.

I assure you that I go through every comment and I take all your constructive criticisms and suggestions into consideration in a bid to make this more pleasurable for everyone to read.

One comment that did tickle me however was someone suggesting I write more about my "off-field adventures" in Bangkok as it was the "land where Hangover 2 (an infamous movie in my opinion) was at" (his/her words, not mine!).

Unfortunately my dear 'Ogla', I can't exactly tell entice you with such escapades because this trip has been football, football, football - and for good reason too seeing how it's the AFF Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia's premier international tournament!

I assure you if I do write for a travel magazine one day, you'll be the first I inform of the most happening joints in the Thai capital.

Interestingly enough though, I do know of two sets of people who will be nursing a hangover come tomorrow morning after a busy night, although there wasn't even a drop of alcohol involved!

On Tuesday evening, Vietnam and Myanmar were beaten by Philippines and Thailand respectively to be left with a solitary point from their opening two Group A games.

I'm pretty sure some of the boys from both camps will have a splitting headache when they wake up on Wednesday morning. Heck, Vietnam coach Phan Thanh Hung even looked like he was about to throw up when facing the media at the post-match press conference.

Anyone who's ever had too much to drink will tell you that for the very next day or two, you swear to yourself you will never touch a drop of alcohol in your life. Just the sheer memory is enough to make you feel nauseous all over again.

Similarly, following the demoralising losses, it's hard to fault the Vietnam and Myanmar players if they feel as though they want to pack their bags and head home, sick at the thought of waiting two years for this tournament and then faced with the prospect of a group-stage exit.

But with a real hangover, you feel slightly better after a day of recuperation, and by the second or third day, all of a sudden, another night of heavy drinking sounds like a great idea all over again!

And thankfully, once the Vietnamese and Myanmarese get the alcohol (defeats) out of their bloodstream, they too will be raring to go come Friday as it isn't over just yet.

The equation in Group A is slightly trick, although Thailand are through and Philippines are assured of a semi-final berth in they beat Myanmar.

Should Philippines draw Myanmar, Vietnam will only progress if they beat the Thais and have a better goal difference than the Azkals.

If Myanmar beat Philippines, they will progress if Vietnam lose or draw in their game against Thailand, or if they beat the War Elephants but have a poorer goal difference.

In any case, Friday's final Group A action looks set to produce drama comparable to a Hollywood blockbuster, and I assure you entertainment of the highest quality if you decide to spent your evening catching all the Suzuki Cup action from Bangkok.

Even if there won't be Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis, a Buddhist monk who has taken a vow of slience, and a chain-smoking capuchin monkey.

Day 4 (26/11/12) - Bangkok Jam

Yes, I know the title's a cliche, but which diary in the Thai capital is complete without an entry titled "Bangkok Jam"?

Bear with me though, as it'll all make sense soon.

The day got off to an early start as the pre-match press conferences for Tuesday's games were scheduled for 10:45 in the morning.

All four team representatives gave excellent quotes ahead of tomorrow, with Thailand coach Winfried Schafer delivering the pick of the lot when he claimed "there is no longer such a thing as a small team in football", in reference to the threat Myanmar will pose to his side.

Following the press conferences, I headed down to get my phone sorted out, meaning you can expect plenty of tweets from me for throughout tomorrow's Group A games, before taking a short ride to the FBT Sports Complex - seven floors full of anything and everything to do with sports, from Wuachon United replica jerseys to golf clubs and treadmills. Go figure...

In the evening, my colleague John and I headed down to the ThaiBev Stadium for Thailand training and we were pretty pleased with ourselves for arriving 20 minutes early, only to find out shortly after the venue had been shifted to Ramkhamhaeng University!

It didn't help that by then, the heavens had decided to pour down on us and we were facing the prospect of being stranded in a place where we had no idea was, until the kindest of Thailand journalists came to our rescue, offering us a lift when taxis were nowhere to be sighted.

Then, after five days in Thailand, we were finally introduced to the phenomenon known as "Bangkok Jam", although it happens so frequently nowadays it shouldn't even be considered as an extraordinary event.

Despite being roughly seven minutes away, it took us almost half an hour to reach our destination, by which time, Schafer and his troops were already on the field and deep into their final training session ahead of their clash against Myanmar.

Thankfully, I managed to catch the more important part of training, when the expected starting XI play against the second stringers, and I can reveal that Osotspa Saraburi attacking midfielder Apipoo Suntornpanavej is in line to replace Datsakorn Thonglao should Thailand's influential playmaker miss out through injury, as he is expected to do so.

After training, I also managed to sneak in a quick interview with War Elephants captain Panupong Wongsa, one of the most-eloquent and thoughtful players I've ever met, who spoke in clear and concise English even though he tried convincing me he wasn't too fluent in the language.

All in all, it was a long but fruitful day, and already I can't wait for Tuesday's clashes, which look set to be pretty decisive.

I also forgot to mention that the day was made even better right after I got my mobile phone sorted out. As I was about to leave a mall called "The Mall", I saw a Dunkin' Donuts stall in front of my very eyes, where I couldn't help but grab a raspberry jam-filled donut.

As it turned out, I was soon to discover a different kind of 'jam' a few hours later. But the next time I'm back in Bangkok, I'm pretty sure I know which one I would prefer.

Day 3 (25/11/12) - Lions, Kings of the Jungle

Before anyone starts jumping to conclusions, let me reiterate a point I firmly believe and that my editor Ian has made clear over the past few weeks.

Losing the opening game in any tournament does not necessarily spell the end of your chances!

One only has to look at Spain at the 2010 FIFA World Cup when they fell to Switzerland, and months later, Malaysia too were thumped 5-1 by Indonesia, only to go and win the title.

Having said that, there's no denying Harimau Malaya were very poor tonight as they fell to a 3-0 loss to bitter rivals Singapore in Group B, just hours after Indonesia had been held to a shock 2-2 draw by Laos.

While the Lions did beat Pakistan 4-0 in their final warm-up friendly, I would say both sides were equally unimpressive in their pre-tournament matches, but the difference at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium tonight was that Singapore came to play, while Malaysia didn't.

With all due credit to coach Radojko Avramovic and his boys, Shahril Ishak was free to open the scoring because Azmi Muslim was ball-watching instead of covering his centre-backs, while a real howler from Khairul Fahmi, arguably Southeast Asia's best goalkeeper, handed the Singapore skipper his second.

And when Aleksandar Duric, a minute after replacing Shahril, nodded home the visitors' third in the 75th minute, I can only imagine the petrified looks on the faces of the Malaysia fans as their team let a towering veteran, who is almost impossible to miss, make his way into the box for an unmarked header.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's not get too overwhelmed by the defeat which, although bad, does not mean the end of the world for K. Rajagobal's side.

Wan Zack Haikal looked extremely lively after coming on, while Amar Rohidan's nondescript display can only mean his spot in the starting XI is in danger, something Malaysia fans are said to be calling for.

Norshahrul Idlan Talaha also gave the Singapore defence something to think about all night long even if Izwan Mahbud did keep a clean sheet, while at the back, Aidil Zafuan did make a number of terrific last-ditch tackles, although he probably should have done a better job of marshalling his defence.

The problem now for Malaysia, whether they like it or not, is the "star names" are just not firing. Safee Sali was smothered by Baihakki Khaizan, while Safiq Rahim was disappointing with his dead-ball deliveries.

Even the pacy S. Kunanlan for that matter, who was coming up against Daniel Bennett, an ageing defender playing out of position, failed to get the better of his 34-year-old opponent.

Yes, Singapore did well but they were also helped by a strangely lethargic display from their opponents, who didn't seem to mind that they were being comprehensively beaten by their greatest enemies from across the Causeway.

Still, there is nothing Malaysia can do about tonight's result but what they can do is make sure they get back to winning ways on Wednesday when they take on Laos, who showed they aren't going to be pushovers after nearly grabbing all three points against Merah Putih, only to succumb to a last-gasp Vendry Mofu equaliser courtesy of some poor goalkeeping by Sengphachan Bounthisanh.

Another thing that surprised me tonight was the fact that Bukit Jalil was not filled out, even though the Ultras Malaya were out in full force. Credit has to go to them for cheering and singing to the final whistle.

It's easy to find faults with Malaysia's performance but what's more important now is that everyone gets behind them, starting on Wednesday against the Laotians.

If they do so, perhaps it will inspire Harimau Malaya to find their groove and bring a smile back to the faces of their ardent supporters.

Not tonight, though. Tonight, the Lions from Singapore were truly kings of the Bukit Jalil jungle.

Day 2 (24/11/12) - Kyi Lin, Christiaens, Jakkapan and Tan

Initially, today's entry was going to be titled "Wet wet wet" given the weather in Bangkok over the past 12 hours, which briefly threatened to delay the start of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Just as Vietnam and Myanmar were warming up, the electricity at the Rajamangala Stadium went out on numerous occasions, although impressively, the back-up generators kicked in straight away, meaning the only way the games would have been called off is if the players' safety was being threatened by the frequent streaks of lightning in the sky.

As things turned out, both Group A matches went ahead and they were both enthralling encounters to say the least, which is why I decided basing a diary entry on the weather would be slightly disrespectful to players on show this evening.

Mind you, there were quite a few who really caught the eye, both in Vietnam's surprising 1-1 draw with Myanmar and Thailand's 2-1 triumph over Philippines.

I have to admit, one of the most satisfying things as a football writer is when you get something absolutely spot on, and although I don't often get to say this, I'm very proud that I picked Kyi Lin as one of my eight youngs guns to watch at the Suzuki Cup.

The Yangon United attacking midfielder was a real handful for the experienced Vietnam backline, but what struck me was the sheer raw talent of the 20-year-old.

In terms of skill and technique, he is on par with some of the region's most-established players and midway through the second half, he produced a moment of magic when he sent opposition captain Nguyen Minh Duc dashing one way with a nonchalant shrug of the hips, before letting the ball run in the opposition direction and racing through on goal.

Later on, another youngster that I singled out before the tournament also took to the Rajamangala field, although Jeffrey Christiaens had to settle for a place on the bench before coming off shortly before halftime for Philippines captain Emelio Caligdong, right after the Thais had taken a 2-0 lead.

Despite the intimidating atmosphere and the magnitude of the game, the Global man showed no signs of being overawed by the occasion and was in fact a main reason why the Azkals forced their way back into the match in the second half, showing excellent composure and a good footballing break.

However, his side ultimately had a little bit too much to do after allowing the War Elephants to take a commanding first-half lead, much of which was down to a winger by the name of Jakkapan Pornsai.

At Thailand training two nights before, it was hard to miss the 25-year-old given his mop of golden hair but if his look doesn't catch your eye, his footballing ability will.

Time and time again, Jakkapan went on bursting runs down the right before delivering excellent crosses into the box, and he was almost impossible to tackle with his pace and quick feet.

Despite coming up against a player with European experience in Dennis Cagara, the Muangthong United man more than held his own and it's now understandable why veteran midfielder Suchao Nuchnum failed to even make Winfried Schafer's preliminary squad.

Perhaps you may be wondering why of all the players I could have chosen to single out, I went for Kyi Lin, Christiaens and Jakkaphan.

Like me, all of them made their Suzuki Cup debuts this evening. But while I'm not sure if I'll be covering the competition when 2014 comes along, I'm willing to bet the three of them will go on to be stars of the region in years to come.

And even though Thailand and Philippines are rated more highly than Myanmar at the moment, don't be surprised if Kyi Lin turns out to be the biggest name of the lot.

Day 1 (23/11/12) - A land of a thousand smiles

Today marks my first full day in Bangkok, Thailand, which has been referred to as "The Land of a Thousand Smiles" and so far, I am yet to see anything that suggests otherwise.

Everywhere I've gone, the locals have been friendly and this genuinely seems like a terrific place to be have a vacation (I've only been in Bangkok once before when I was barely into my teenage years).

Alas, relaxing and enjoying a nice cool beverage will have to take a back seat for now as I am here on official work duty - to cover the Group A fixtures of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Over the next days, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Myanmar will do battle for a spot in the semi-finals of Southeast Asia's most-prestigious tournament. And while it's only "Day One" officially, there's already been plenty of activity.

Yesterday evening, having been in the country for all of four hours, I whisked down with my colleague John from ESPNEWS and his cameraman to catch Thailand at training, where we sneaked in a quick interview with coach Winfried Schafer.

Having spent the last year keeping a close eye on the Thai Premier League, it was also intriguing to finally see players like Datsakorn Thonglao, Teerasil Dangda and Teerathon Bunmathan in the flesh.

Today, we had the official press conference for the opening round of Group A fixtures, where coaches and team managers all gathered to give their thoughts on their respective side's chances.

Interestingly, Schafer and Philippines coach Michael Weiss developed an instant bond, with the latter even helping to translate a few questions for the former. It all became clearer later on when it was revealed they both hail from the same region in Germany.

Following that, we waited around the hotel where the press conference had been held for the Azkals to return from training, where I managed to get a glimpse of Phil and James Younghusband, Ref Cuaresma and Anto Gonzales, four players I've had the pleasure of covering this year when they participated in the RHB Singapore Cup with Loyola Meralco Sparks.

Due to the busy nature of the day, it's flown by and we're now one sleep away from the opening day of the Suzuki Cup. Vietnam vs Myanmar, Thailand vs Philippines.

Rajamangala can hold up to 80,000 people and I'm willing to bet it's going to be a full house tomorrow evening given the football-crazy Thais.

With all due respect to Vietnam and Myanmar, I've got my eye firmly set on the second game, which for now, Thailand are favourites for. No doubt, Philippines will pose a real threat and could even get something out of the game, even though Weiss conceded he would be happy with a point.

But if the War Elephants get over the line and get their campaign off to a winning start, the Rajamangala Stadium would quite literally be "The Stadium of Ten Thousand Smiles".

Can't wait.


ESPN STAR Sports will broadcast all 18 matches with the most extensive online coverage on the AFF Suzuki Cup. Check espnstar.com (espnstar.my or espnstar.co.id) for local TV listing & breaking news. Follow us on Twitter @espn_star (or @espnstarmy, @espnstarid) for the latest updates from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.




comments powered by Disqus

Most Popular News

News & Update