Asian Cup Qualifying half-term report cards: Southeast Asia

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

It is the halfway stage of the third and final round of qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and Southeast Asia’s sides have thus far enjoyed varying degrees of success.

Of course, regional giants Thailand have already booked their ticket to United Arab Emirates 2019 by virtue of their top-two finish in the previous stage.

But for many of their neighbours, this is the last chance to qualify for Asia’s premier international tournament, some for the first time in their history.

Apart from Malaysia and Myanmar, who have both played a game less, it is a case of three qualifiers down and three to go.

Here, FOX Sports Asia has decided to play the role of teacher and give out half-term report cards for each of these Asian Cup hopefuls.

MYANMAR – 2nd in Group A

Myanmar were scheduled to play Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday but the match was postponed due to security concerns, allowing India to move six points clear at the top of Group A with a third consecutive win.

Still, the Myanmarese find themselves in a good position.

They would have been disappointed losing 1-0 to India at home after conceding in injury-time, but bounced back by beating Macau 4-0 away.

Their next two games against Kyrgyzstan will be crucial. Pick up at least four points from those ties and a top-two finish – along with a place at the Asian Cup – would be virtually sealed.

Star pupil: Sithu Aung netted two cracking goals to help his side to their only victory thus far. Honourable mentions also go out to livewire Aung Thu and former golden boy Kyaw Ko Ko, who is slowly getting back to his best after struggles with injury and form.

MALAYSIA – 4th in Group B

Malaysia have not been helped by a delayed start to their Group B campaign after their opening clash with DPR Korea was postponed and will now only be played next month.

This means that, so far, Harimau Malaya have played two matches at home with just one point to show for their efforts.

Lebanon are no pushovers but Malaysia would feel they could have avoided defeat in that game especially after taking the lead, while even more disappointment would have followed in the 1-1 draw against Hong Kong.

Nelo Vingada’s charges now have only one more tie on home soil to capitalise on and daunting trips to Pyongyang and Beirut to come.

The first of those arrives on October 5 and anything less than a win would probably leave Malaysia with too much ground to make up.

Star pupil: Malaysia’s reliance on playmaker Safiq Rahim is bordering on unhealthy but it is clear to see why he has been their best player for the past few years. He singlehandedly tried to will them to victory over Hong Kong and – on his day – is capable of winning a game on his own, even at continental level.

VIETNAM – 2nd in Group C

Things did not begin according to plan for Vietnam as they perhaps should have beaten Afghanistan, but they made up for that by holding Jordan to a 0-0 draw.

Then, it may not have been the dominant display they were looking for but they got what they needed in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Cambodia to sit pretty in second place in Group C.

They, along with Philippines, are the only Southeast Asian sides yet to taste defeat in the third round and will be feeling confident in their chances of qualifying for their first Asian Cup since they co-hosted in 2007.

Star pupil: Nguyen Cong Phuong, Luong Xuan Truong and Nguyen Van Toan are just some of the outstanding talents promising to be the next big thing for Vietnam, but Nguyen Van Quyet continues to rule the roost for now. His ability to unlock an opposition defence has been a key factor behind the attractive, attacking football that has been associated with the Vietnamese in recent times.

CAMBODIA – 3rd in Group C

The main concern for Cambodia is that, with the presence of Jordan in Group C, it looks like an outright battle for second spot between them, Vietnam and Afghanistan.

After a demoralising 7-0 loss to the Jordanians, Cambodia did well to get back on track by beating Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, Tuesday’s defeat to Vietnam hurt and the rematch in Ho Chi Minh City on October 10 is already looming as a must-win for the Cambodians.

Star pupil: Chan Vathanaka may usually get the plaudits but the Angkor Warriors have an equally talented schemer in Prak Mony Udom. His winner against the Afghans saw him produce everything you would want from your attacking midfielder, and more. A deft turn past a defender, some nice interplay at the edge of the box, as well as the determination to chase after a lost cause which ultimately led to a fortuitous but deserved goal.

SINGAPORE – 4th in Group E

It all started promisingly for the Lions when a plucky display secured a 0-0 draw away to Bahrain, but it has gone downhill ever since.

A 2-1 home defeat to Chinese Taipei was one of their most disappointing defeats in recent memory, while they should have reaped more than just one point on Tuesday, when they scored first and created countless other chances only to concede late in a 1-1 draw with Turkmenistan.

Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy looks to have found the perfect formation in his new 3-4-3 system, but there is little he can do should his charges continue to spurn their opportunities and fail to capitalise on their dominance.

It will not be easy but, like Malaysia, Singapore must win their next game – a visit to Turkmenistan’s Kopetdag Stadium – or they might just be kissing their Asian Cup hopes goodbye for another four years.

Star pupil: There have not been too many bright sparks for Singapore but Shakir Hamzah has been one of them. The 24-year-old gives 100 per cent every time he takes to the field, and Sundram’s new system, which has converted him into a left-wingback, sees Shakir posing a constant attacking threat.

PHILIPPINES – 1st in Group F

Philippines may be the only team out of the lot that have never taken their place amongst Asia’s elite, but 2019 is shaping up as a potentially historic year given their current progress.

It seems as though the Azkals are not just satisfied delivering the results, but are also determined to provide the thrill and scare factor to their fans.

Asian Cup Qualifiers ?? #azkals #asia #asiancup #nationalteam

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But, the fact of the matter is, they are currently top in Group F with seven points from three games, and certainly know their way to the back of the net having already notched ten goals.

Four points collected over the next 270 minutes should be enough to send them to UAE 2019.

Star pupil: Phil Younghusband is regularly in the spotlight for his celebrity status off the field, yet it should not be forgotten that – on the field – he has been the benchmark of consistency in Philippine football. Turning 30 last month has not slowed him down as he grabbed the 47th goal of his international career against Yemen on Tuesday, and he will eventually go down as one of the Azkals’ all-time greats.