Myanmar, Laos set to book Suzuki berths

Two berths in the AFF Suzuki Cup are up for grabs when five of Southeast-Asian sides do battle in the qualifiers starting on Friday.

AFC U22: Myanmar fans

By Gabriel Tan 

And from the look of things, it appears Myanmar and Laos are the most likely to progress to the group stages of the region's most-illustrious competition, ahead of Cambodia, Brunei and Timor Leste.

Myanmar find themselves in unfamiliar having qualified automatically for the 2010 edition, but Philippines' rise means Park Sung-hua's men now have to earn their spot to take on the likes of Thailand and Malaysia.

However, the White Angels should have no problems doing just that if they play to the best of their abilities, given the strong squad Park has at his disposal.

In captain Khin Maung Lwin, Myanmar have an all-action midfielder that most sides will struggle to keep under wraps, while his Yangon United team-mates David Htan and Kyi Lin both look very promising - their participation in this season's AFC Cup no doubt doing them a world of good.

Kanbawza, who made it to the quarter-finals of the RHB Singapore Cup, will also provide a number of up-and-coming youngsters to the national team, including striker Kyaw Zayar Win and defender Thein Than Win, although plenty of eyes will be on 19-year-old forward Kyaw Ko Ko, who starred at the recent AFC Under-22 Asian Cup qualifiers.

In Park, Myanmar have someone who won over 90 caps for Korea Republic and coached his country in 2003 to 2004.

Laos, while not as strong as Myanmar on paper, should have enough to finish as runners-up as a large number of the squad that qualified back in 2010 remain in the national-team setup.

Sengphachan Bounthisanh remains Kokichi Kimura's first-choice custodian, while Yotha defensive duo Kitsada Thongkhen and Saynakhonevieng should provide him sufficient protection.

Midfielders Konekham Inthammavong and Kanlaya Sysomvang, who both scored in their memorable 2-2 draw with Thailand at the previous edition, will play key roles in the Laotian engine room, while in Vientiane striker Visay Phaphouvanin, they have a striker with plenty of international experience.

Should either Myanmar or Laos slip up, Cambodia could be the ones to capitalise, although they look weak at the back, with the two goalkeepers Hok Sochetra has called both extremely inexperienced.

To make up for that, Phnom Penh Crown centre-back Tieng Tiny will have to be at his best, alongside Lay Raksmey and Om Thavrak, while the responsibility of finding the back of the net will fall on 23-year-old Khim Borey, although he will receive support from Teab Varathanak, who is usually deployed in midfield for club side Nagacorp.

The Cambodians have a real weapon in the engine room in captain Sun Sophana, although Preah Khan Reach 18-year-olds Prak Mony Udom and Soun Veasna are expected to enhance their reputation.

Looking to stun the rest of the qualifying opposition are Brunei, who have been boosted by the inclusion of several players from DPMM FC, the country's only professional side who are currently second in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League in Singapore.

Amongst the group that have been called up by Kwon Oh-soh include star striker Shahrazen Said, inspirational defensive-midfielder Rosmin Kamis, skilful winger Subhi Abdilah and goalkeeper Wardun Yussof.

The last time the Bruneians took part in the actual competition was back in 1996, when it was still known as the Tiger Cup, where they finished fourth in Group B and failed to make the knockout round.

Timor Leste round off the list of hopefuls, and given they are the lowest-ranked side in the region according to the FIFA rankings, it is unlikely they will pose any real threat to their opponents.

This was evident back in 2010 when they lost all three of their qualifiers, scoring just three goals and conceding 15, including thumping 5-0 and 6-1 defeats to Philippines and Laos respectively.

While a lack of a proper infrastructure remains a huge problem in Timorese football, O Sol Nascente can go long way in raising the profile of football in the country by improving on their displays.

Goalkeeper Emerson, who currently plays for Thai Premier League side Chiangrai United, and striker Ary are two players who will be crucial to Timor Leste's prospects, while Brazilian-Timorese playmaker Antonio Marcos Sousa could prove to be their wild card.

2012 AFF Suzuki Cup Qualifying Fixtures

October 5

Cambodia vs Timor Leste, Myanmar vs Brunei

October 7

Timor Leste vs Myanmar, Laos vs Cambodia

October 9

Cambodia vs Brunei, Timor Leste vs Laos

October 11

Brunei vs Laos, Myanmar vs Cambodia

October 13

Laos vs Myanmar, Brunei vs Timor Leste

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