SEA sides set for tough qualifying starts

Five Southeast Asian sides will kick off their bid to qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup on Wednesday with the start of the qualifiers.

The feisty duo renewing hostilities.

By Gabriel Tan

And given how no team from the region made the previous edition in 2011, it remains to be seen if the trend will be bucked come 2015 when Asia's best congregate in Australia.

Here, FOX Sports takes a look at how Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam might fare in their opening Asian Cup qualifier.

Singapore (Group A)


Opponents: Jordan, Syria, Oman

First game: Jordan (King Abdullah Stadium, Amman)

Although the Lions will be high on confidence following last year's AFF Suzuki Cup triumph, they have been drawn in a tricky group consisting of 2011 quarter-finalists Jordan, reigning West Asian champions Syria and Oman, who are captained by Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

Singapore start the campaign with arguably the toughest tie that they could have been handed - a trip to Jordan - and their cause has not been helped by their failure to find a full-time successor to former boss Radojko Avramovic.

In the meantime, LIONSXII coach V. Sundramoorthy has been handed the reins on an interim basis but the limited preparation time that has been afforded to him means that it will be a minor miracle should he be able to get any sort of result on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, the Lions have back-to-back home games after their trip to Jordan, and should they get at least a point in Amman, it could put them in a good position when they welcome Oman and Syria to the Jalan Besar Stadium in the second half of the year.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Izwan Mahbud (LIONSXII), Hassan Sunny (Warriors FC), Joey Sim (Geylang International)

Defenders: Ismail Yunos, Juma'at Jantan, Noh Rahman (all Home United), Baihakki Khaizan, Irwan Shah, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah (all LIONSXII), Daniel Bennett (Warriors FC), Shaiful Esah (Tampines Rovers)

Midfielders: Firdaus Idros (Home United), Isa Halim, Shahril Ishak, Zulfahmi Arifin (all LIONSXII), Firdaus Kasman, Shahdan Sulaiman (both Tampines Rovers)

Forwards: Hafiz Rahim (Home United), Fazrul Nawaz (LIONSXII), Erwan Gunawan, Sufian Anuar (both Warriors FC), Khairul Amri (Tampines Rovers)

Thailand (Group B)


Opponents: Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon

First game: Kuwait (Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok)

Thailand remain Southeast Asia's best performer at the Asian Cup, having finished third back in 1972, but 2011 was the first time they failed to make the tournament proper in six editions.

Since then, the War Elephants have appointed a new coach in Winfried Schafer, who led Cameroon to the Africa Cup of Nations in 2002, and although they fell short in last year's Suzuki Cup after losing to Singapore in the final, they captivated their fans by playing a new brand of attacking football.

Still, the likes of Iran and Kuwait remain a cut above the Thais, while Lebanon will also pose a tough test. However, Thailand do have the advantage of starting their campaign at home and Kuwait will be at a real disadvantage on Wednesday with Bangkok's  humid conditions.

Not many people have given them a chance against Asia's 15th-ranked side, according to the FIFA world rankings, but if Thailand find their groove, we could just be treated to a memorable upset.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Kawin Thamsatchanan (Muangthong United), Chatchai Budprom (Osotspa Saraburi), Yosapol Tiangda (Buriram United)

Defenders: Panupong Wongsa, Piyaphon Buntao, Artit Daosawang (all Muangthong United), Chonlatit Jantakam, Anucha Kitpongsri (both Chonburi), Theerathon Bunmathan (Buriram United), Narubodin Weerawatnodom (BEC Tero Sasana)

Midfielders: Datsakorn Thonglao, Phichitphong Choeichiu, Jakkapan Pornsai, Thitipan Puangchan (all Muangthong United), Sumanya Purisay (Chainat), Apipoo Suntornpanavej (Osotspa Saraburi), Adul Lahsoh, Arthit Sunthornpit (both Chonburi), Chananthip Songkrasin (BEC Tero Sasana), Tana Chanabut (Police United)

Forwards: Teerasil Dangda (Muangthong United), Kirati Keawsombut (PTT Rayong), Chatree Chimtale, Teeratep Winothai (both Bangkok Glass)

Indonesia (Group C)


Opponents: Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia

First game: Iraq (Al Rashid Stadium, Dubai)

Despite continuing to produce some of the region's finest talents, Indonesia has struggled to prosper recently given the administrative problems plaguing the country.

The dual-league battle continues to deny Merah Putih coach Nil Maizar a full complement of players to choose from, and some would say this ultimately cost them last year as they failed to make it out of the group stage at the Suzuki Cup.

Nevertheless, a few players did emerge as genuine prospects for the future, including flying winger Andik Vermansah, utility player Raphael Maitimo and left-back Novan Setyo Sasongko.

Although Merah Putih have been handed the toughest draw of the lot, having been pitted against Iraq, China and Saudi Arabia, the quality of opposition will only serve to improve their up-and-coming players.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Endra Prasetya (Persebaya 1927), Wahyu Tri Nugroho (Persiba Bantul)

Defenders: Ketut Mahendra (PSM Makassar), Handi Ramdhan, Nopendi (both Persiba Bantul), Virga Liswanto (PS AU), Eldjo Iba (PON Papau), Syaiful Indra Cahya (Persema Malang), Novan Setyo Sasongko, Wahyu Wijiastanto (both Semen Padang), Agus Nova Wiantara (Persires Bali Devata)

Midfielders: Rasyid Bakri (PSM Makassar), Slamet Nurcahyo (Persiba Bantul), Oktovianus Maniani, Raphael Maitimo, Stevie Bonsapia (all Unattached), Amandus Weubun (PSBS Biak Numfor), Muhammad Taufiq, Andik Vermansah (both Persebaya 1927), Hendra Bayauw, Vendry Mofu (both Semen Padang)

Forwards: Irfan Bachdim (Chonburi), Mario Aibekop (PSBS Biak Numfor)

Malaysia (Group D)


Opponents: Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen

First game: Qatar (Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha)

It seems a long time since Malaysia were heralded as Southeast Asia's best side following their 2010 Suzuki Cup triumph, and looked the region's best chance of challenging the rest of Asia for continental honours.

But while Harimau Malaya flattered to deceive at the Suzuki Cup's 2012 edition, with the likes of Safee Sali and Safiq Rahim looking a shadow of their former selves, coach K. Rajagobal still has a formidable pool of players to pick his squad from.

The problem for him at the moment is that injuries have severely depleted his side, and injuries to both Safee and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha mean he will have to do without his first-choice strike duo against Qatar on Wednesday, while talismanic skipper Safiq is suspended.

Their absence does provide the chance for in-form duo Fauzi Roslan and Norfarhan Muhammad to stake their claims for a regular berth, although it remains to be seen it both have enough international experience for a game of such importance.

One big problem for Malaysia is the fact that, like Singapore, they start with what is arguably their toughest fixture of the lot, and anything other than defeat will be viewed as a positive result.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Khairul Fahmi (Kelantan), Farizal Marlias (Perak), Norazlan Razali (Selangor)

Defenders: Mahalli Jasuli, Asraruddin Putra Omar (both Selangor), Amirizdwan Taj Tajuddin, K. Reuben (both ATM), Aidil Zafuan, Azmi Muslim (both Darul Takzim), Fadhli Shas (Harimau Muda A), Nik Shahrul Azim (Kelantan), Helmi Remeli (PKNS FC), Faizal Muhammad (Terengganu)

Midfielders: Affize Faisal (ATM), Abdul Shukor Jusoh (Selangor), Shakir Shaari, Norfarhan Muhammad (both Kelantan), Azamuddin Akil (Pahang), Yong Kuong Yong (Perak), Ashaari Shamsuddin (Terengganu)

Forwards: Khyril Muhymeen Zambri (Kedah), Fauzi Roslan (Pahang), Abdul Hadi Yahya (Perak), Amri Yahyah (Selangor)

Vietnam (Group E)


Opponents: Uzbekistan, UAE, Hong Kong

First game: UAE (My Dinh National Stadium, Hanoi)

The last time Southeast Asia were represented at the Asian Cup - in 2007 when Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam were co-hosts - the Red Warriors were the only side to advance to the quarter-finals, where they were defeated by eventual champions Iraq.

However, a lot has changed since then and following an embarrassing group-stage exit at last year's Suzuki Cup, Phan Thanh Hung, their first local coach in over 20 years, has made way for interim boss Hoang Van Phuc.

More than a few eyebrows were raised when former golden boy Le Cong Vinh, who scored the goal that won the 2007 Suzuki Cup, and ex-captain Nguyen Minh Duc were omitted from Van Phuc's inaugural squad selection.

Midfielders Le Tan Tai and Huynh Quoc Anh, the only two players to come out from last year's Suzuki Cup with their reputations intact, will be expected to deliver the goods, along with defender Nguyen Gia Tu.

Interestingly, Vietnam have called up two foreign-born players in Michal Nguyen and Mac Hong Quan, and it will be interesting to see if they are thrown straight into the starting XI given their European experience.

Given the state the Red Warriors currently find themselves in, it's unlikely they will be able to book their place at the Asian Cup, but they can go a long way to redeeming themselves with a series of spirited displays, starting this week at home to UAE.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Nguyen Thanh Binh (SHB Da Nang), Tran Buu Ngoc (TDCS Dong Thap), Huynh Tuan Linh (Than Quang Ninh)

Defenders: Nguyen Gia Tu, Le Quang Hung (both Vissai Ninh Binh), Duong Thanh Hao (TDCS Dong Thap), Dinh Tien Thanh, Dao Van Phong (both Vicem Hai Phong), Pham Van Nam (Mikado Nam Dinh), Au Van Hoan (Song Lam Nghe An), Michal Nguyen (Banik Most)

Midfielders: Pham Nguyen Sa, Huynh Quoc Anh (both SHB Da Nang), Ngo Hoang Thinh (Song Lam Nghe An), Nguyen Huy Hung (Unattached), Le Tan Tai (Vicem Hai Phong), Le Van Thang (Thanh Hoa), Vu Minh Tuan (Than Quang Ninh), Pham Thanh Luong, Nguyen Van Quyet (both Ha Noi T&T), Hoang Danh Ngoc, Tran Manh Dung (both Vissai Ninh Binh), Le Hoang Thien (Hoang Anh Gia Lai)

Forwards: Nguyen Hai Anh (TDCS Dong Thap), Ha Minh Tuan (SHB Da Nang), Mac Hong Quan (Unattached)



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