With the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup finally kicking off on Thursday, FOX Sports Asia takes a look at the Group A of Southeast Asia’s premier football competition and find out what the five teams in the pool have in store at the 12th edition of the AFF Championship.
In Vietnam and Malaysia, Group A of the 2018 AFF Suzuki has the only two teams that have managed to disrupt the monopoly of Thailand and Singapore on the regional competition. Vying with them for a place in the knockout stages will be Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos making for an interesting contest.
FOX Sports Asia takes a detailed look at the teams battling it out in Group B of AFF Suzuki Cup.
VIETNAM (Best finish: Champions in 2008)
Vietnam football have hit a purple pitch recently finishing fourth at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta as well as becoming runners-up in the AFC U23 Championship. And if they can take their form to the latest edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup, there is little doubt they can be one of the contenders for the trophy come December 15.
Having progressed out of the group stages in nine out of 11 editions of the tournament, they are expected to make out of this group without breaking much sweat, but what really matters to them will be their performances in the semifinals — especially after getting knocked out in the last fours in 2016.
With the 2019 AFC Asian Cup also on the offing, the Red Dragons will line up with a young squad, but will still have experience in the likes of Nguyen Anh Duc and skipper Nguyen Van Quyet. And if they can guide the team on and off the pitch, Vietnam can go a long way in the tournament and maybe lift a second AFF Cup, 10 years after clinching their first.
MALAYSIA (Best finish: Champions in 2010)
Malaysia’s performances in the AFF Suzuki Cup has seen ups and downs, to say the least. They lifted their maiden title in dramatic fashion in 2010 and reached the semifinals in 2014. However, two years ago at the last tournament, they didn’t even manage to get past the group stages.
So what version of Harimau Malay will we witness at the latest edition? Only time will tell. A relatively young squad, Malaysia were fortunate enough to have been handed out comfortable fixtures in the early stages of the tournament as they face Cambodia and Laos in their first two group games before the heavyweight clash against Vietnam on November 16 at Hanoi.
Much of the hope of the Malaysian Tigers will rest on the young shoulders of Safawi Rasid, the 21-year-old Johor Darul Ta’zim star who has lit up the AFC Cup, AFC U23 Championship and the Asian Games in recent months. With this being his debut in the AFF Suzuki Cup, the youngster would want to write his name into the history books — sooner rather than later.
MYANMAR (Best finish: Semifinals in 2004 & 2016)
The last edition’s semifinalists would love to repeat that feat this time around, but will also be aware that it will be easier said than done. The Asian Lions managed to get out of an almost identical group last time, finishing behind Vietnam and ahead of Malaysia and that will give them some much-needed confidence.
However, in the semifinals, they were put to sword by eventual champions Thailand who ran them ragged handing an embarrassing 6-0 defeat on aggregate. But with some promising youngsters in their ranks, Myanmar might once again have enough firepower to make the knockout stages this time around.
Their promising striker Aung Thu was the third leading goalscorer in the Thai League last season with 11 goals while the likes of Kyaw Ko Ko and Kyi Lin add experience to the attacking line. With no AFC Asian Cup to look forward to, the AFF Suzuki Cup will be their top priority and their fans will be expecting them to deliver something this time around.
CAMBODIA (Best finish: 1 win in group stages in 2000 & 2002)
Cambodia have taken part in six editions of the AFF Suzuki Cup, but are yet to reach the knockout stages of the competition and has a dismal record of just two wins from 22 matches. But the team showed some promise in the previous edition when they put on brave displays against the likes of Malaysia and Myanmar.
Though they are coached by Japan legend Keisuke Honda on paper, the Melbourne Victory player will not be in the Cambodia dugout just yet. However, they can take heart from the fact that they have been handed out an easy group where only Vietnam are the firm favourites for the title.
So, a maiden appearance in the knockout stages might not be beyond them — especially if the veteran stars of the national team like midfielder Thierry Chantha Bin and attacker Chan Vathanaka can fire on all cylinder from the start!
LAOS (Best finish: 1 win in group stages in 1996 & 2004)
Laos might have never managed to get past the group stages of the biennial competition since its inception in 2006, but with former Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy at the helm, they might be hoping to change that state of affairs. But it will definitely be a tough task considering the pedigree of the oppositions that they will have to negotiate.
One wouldn’t have to remind the Thim Xad one of their previous meetings with Vietnam where they conceded nine goals without reply in 2007. But with Sundramoorthy’s brand of football, many believe that the Laotians have finally found a perfect match and the AFF Suzuki Cup will be the first real testing ground for the new regime.
Though a place in the knockout stages will be almost out of question for Laos at the moment, they will want to impress on their return to the AFF Championship after missing out on it in 2016. Giving the likes of Malaysia and Vietnam a run for their money will please the new gaffer as well as their fans.