The Group B of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup is going to be ultra-competitive with the presence of two teams that have emerged as champions in nine of the 11 editions, another team that have made the finals twice and an outfit that is on a meteoric rise from the region.
While Group A teams of the AFF event shares two titles among them, two teams in Group B, Thailand and Singapore together, have won nine! Singapore meanwhile have always been a power to reckon with in the competition consistently reaching the semifinals and finals despite not tasting the ultimate success yet.
If that wasn’t enough, the group will also feature the Philippines who are a rapidly-improving nation with one of the most recognisable names in world football, Sven-Goran Eriksson, as their manager — which all means that it is safe to call Group B of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup the ‘Group of Death’.
We take a closer look the prospects of the teams in Group B.
THAILAND (Best finish: Champions in 1996, 2000, 2002, 2014 & 2016)
Teerasil Dangda, Theerathon Bunmathan, Chanathip Songkrasin and Kawin Thamsatchanan — these are some of the first names that will be written onto a Thailand’s squad list. But unfortunately for the defending champions, their fans and the tournament in general, the quartet will be missing from action at the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup.
The four Thai stars plying their trade abroad were not called up for the SEA tournament keeping in mind the 2019 AFC Asian Cup taking place early next year. And Thailand‘s campaign at the AFF Championship will largely hinge on how they cope up with the loss of such star names from the starting lineup.
But they still have quality players like Adisak Kraisorn, Sumanya Purisai, Korrakod Wiriyaudomsiri and Thitipan Puangchan to call up on and many pundits are of the opinion that this almost second string War Elephants side will be good enough to win their sixth AFF title come December 15! Talk of strength in depth!
SINGAPORE (Best finish: Champions in 1998, 2004, 2007 & 2012)
Singapore boast of an envious record in Southeast Asia’s premier tournament, but they have had a couple of nightmarish campaigns in it off late having failed to make past the group stages in each of the last two editions. They have also seen their regional rivals Thailand overcome them as the most successful team in ASEAN.
Singapore head into the tournament with former star Fandi Ahmad taking the reins and the coach has had a promising start to his stint with the Lions having won three out of four. But with the AFF Suzuki Cup being an altogether different ball game, all eyes will be on 56-year-old as he faces his first major test.
Freshly crowned the best ASEAN player in Malaysia, Hariss Harun will play a key role in his team’s prospects at the competition. The Johor Darul Ta’zim star has been in scintillating form at the club level and if the midfielder can repeat his heroics over the next one month or so, it will go a long way in deciding whether another AFF title will reach Singapore’s trophy cabinet.
INDONESIA (Best finish: Runners-up in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010 & 2016)
Indonesia should be the unluckiest team any tournament has ever seen because they have made the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup on five occasion including in the last two, but have failed to claim the trophy even once! Add to that, two semifinal appearances in 1996 and 1998, it is fair to say they have had quite a few heartbreaks over the years.
The Indonesians will once again take to the tournament hoping that this will be their year, but being drawn into the extreme competitiveness of a Group of Death hasn’t helped their cause. However, many believe that Bima Sakti’s men have the ability to successfully pass the test and make the knockouts at the expense of either Singapore or Thailand.
PHILIPPINES (Best finish: Semifinals in 2010, 2012 & 2014)
The Azkals are a team on the rise and what better opportunity for them to advertise that to the world than by winning the regional crown — the AFF Suzuki Cup. From failing to make the tournament in 2008 to reaching the semifinals in the following three editions, their failure to make it past the group in 2016 can only be seen as a blip in otherwise a good course.
With a big-name manager in the form of Sven-Goran Eriksson and some brilliant pedigree in the playing lineup including Phil Younghusband and Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge (possibly!), it looks like the Philippines are determined to make a statement of intent at the tournament this year.
Eriksson getting very little time with his new wards before the start of the tournament could be a concern, but with also an AFC Asian Cup to look forward to, the Azkals can make the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup a springboard to success!
TIMOR-LESTE (Best finish: Pointless in group stages in 2005)
The lowest-ranked national team in the 12th edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup, Timor-Leste made it to the tournament proper after playing a qualifier against Brunei back in September. Since then, the Timorese have also recorded a 2-2 draw with Cambodia showing that they have what it takes to battle it among the region’s big boys.
This is just the second time the the side are playing in the championship — their first campaign in 2014 ending in a winless and pointless note as they lost all four group matches. And the team has had a rocky home stretch as they headed into the tournament after they were told they couldn’t host their home matches in their country.
With their home Dili Municipal Stadium unfit to host the matches due to bad floodlighting, their two ‘home’ games will now be held in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. They won’t be expected to do big things in their second attempt in the AFF Suzuki Cup, but salvaging a point or two from this group might be an achievement in itself for the newbies of the event.