Phil Younghusband excited with AFF Suzuki Cup challenge

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Philippines captain Phil Younghusband is looking forward to the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup despite admitting his side have been handed some tough tests in Wednesday’s draw.

The Azkals were put in Group B alongside defending champions Thailand, 2016 runners-up Indonesia, four-time champions Singapore, as well as the winner of the qualifying playoff between Brunei Darussalam and Timor-Leste.

Once whipping boys of Southeast Asia, Philippines have come a long way since Younghusband won his first cap in 2006 and reached the Suzuki Cup semi-finals in 2010, 2012 and 2014, before missing out two years ago on home soil.

It will be a case of déjà vu for the Azkals given they were also in the same group with Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore two years ago, and Younghusband is hoping they will do better this time around.

“It’s the same group we drew in 2016, plus a qualifier,” the 30-year-old told FOX Sports Asia.

“I think we will be better prepared this time.

“It’s a difficult group with arguably the strongest side in Thailand and then, with Singapore and Indonesia, you have two teams who have had great success in this competition, so you can never count them out.”

This year’s edition – to be played from November 8 to December 15 – will have a new format, with sides playing twice at home and twice away during the group stage.

For Philippines, they will entertain Thailand and Singapore, but one of their trips will be to Indonesia on the final day of the group stage, a game that could be played at Jakarta’s 76,127-capacity Gelora Bung Karno, which arguably boasts the most-intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams in the entire region.

Still, having done well back in March to qualify for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup – one of just three ASEAN teams to accomplish the feat along with Thailand and Vietnam – Younghusband has backed his team-mates to head to the Suzuki Cup with full belief in their abilities.

“It will be interesting to see if the new format will work as an advantage,” added Younghusband, who holds the record for most international appearances and goals for Philippines.

“Our confidence is high at the moment having qualified for the Asian Cup.

“Hopefully, we will have no injuries so that we’ll be going into the Suzuki Cup with the strongest squad possible.”

Photo credit: AFF Suzuki Cup