Nicolas Anil reckons Malaysia will have the best chance of AFF Suzuki Cup glory if they are grouped with Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore and Brunei when the draw takes place on Wednesday, May 2.
The AFF Suzuki Cup which kicks off in November is set to be a fascinating affair with a new format in tow. In order to boost attendance, the organizers have revamped the tournament and all 10 teams would be playing two home and two away matches in the group stage.
The Harimau Malaya will avoid Indonesia who are seeded in the same pot, but they will have to come up against emerging forces in the group stage.
Pot 1 – Vietnam
If Malaysia are to make it out of the group, there is no escaping Vietnam or five-time champions Thailand. By their mere outstanding record in the tournament, it would work best in Malaysia’s favour to avoid the War Elephants early on. But Vietnam are no slouches by any means.
The Golden Dragons have a golden generation of players that have taken them to the 2019 Asian Cup, and gone on a wonderful run at the AFC Under-23 Championship by making this year’s final. If Tan is going to get his men to the semifinals, he will need to formulate a plan to overcome the speedy and hardworking Vietnamese.
Pot 3 – Myanmar
Underestimating Myanmar is the last thing Malaysia would want to do, especially after they were sent packing by the 2016 hosts after a 1-0 defeat in the group stage. But the Malaysians stand a better chance against Myanmar than the Philippines, who are currently the second highest ranked ASEAN nation (113) and also one of three teams in the region to book their berth at the Asian Cup next year.
So while Malaysia will eye Myanmar as potential three points, another daunting trip to the Thuwunna Stadium beckons when the draw is done.
Pot 4 – Singapore
Facing their perennial rivals is one this competition’s trademark fixtures, and this clash is necessary considering the downward spiral both nations have been facing in recent years.
Singapore saw V. Sundramoorthy step down in early April despite having 11-months to run on his contract, after he failed to win in one whole year. The search for his successor continues, as the Lions seek a suitable candidate for a rebuilding process.
Back in Kuala Lumpur, Tan faces the same dilemma as he plots a way to resurrect a fallen team that has been in the doldrums for far too long. Which is why a meeting of these two nations in the next six months is an anticipated one.
Pot 5 – Brunei
Only Laos have been confirmed in this pot, and they will be joined by the winner of a two-legged playoff.
Timor Leste and Brunei are likely to contend for a spot in the finals, but Malaysia will fancy their chances against Brunei.
The tiny oil-rich nation have been regulars in the tournament, but they have never made an impression and without any disrespect to them, this edition would be a forgettable affair for them too.
Tan can look at this game as three points in the bag to boost Malaysia’s chances of making it out of the group stage, after the disappointment of 2016. At that edition under Ong Kim Swee, Malaysia failed to make the semifinals for only the third time. If they have Brunei for company in the same group, they stand a better chance of qualification.
Photo credit: Football Association of Malaysia Facebook