The first tests of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers have been taken and the grades are in. It is time to assess how the ASEAN teams fared over the past week.
With the exception of Vietnam, Southeast Asia’s eight other contenders played two matches over the past seven days with varying results.
Here, FOX Sports Asia assesses how well each ASEAN team did in the opening two match days of the FIFA World Cup second-round Asian qualifiers.
Beginning the campaign against Syria was never going to be easy but Philippines gave their opponents an early scare by taking the lead through Javier Patino’s 6th-minute opener, only to eventually succumb to a 5-2 defeat.
While the Syrians ultimately had too much quality, it was far from an embarrassing defeat for the Azkals.
Their second match then offered something on the opposite end of the spectrum in the form of Guam and, although there were a few nervy moments, Philippines were good enough to claim a 4-1 win and are currently one of four teams tied on three points in Group A.
The Azkals coaching staff also deserve credit for showing a willingness to adopt different approaches in both games, opting for a conservative 5-3-2 against Syria before showing plenty of intent with a traditional 4-4-2 against Guam.
Star pupil: Angel Guirado – Making his return to the side following almost two years away from the international fold, Guirado showed he still has plenty to offer despite now being 34. The physically-imposing striker was a handful for opposition defenders and had a goal and two assists to show for his efforts.
One point from two games may not be an ideal haul but the results do not fully illustrate how impressive Cambodia were.
They were the dominant side in last Thursday’s 1-1 draw against Hong Kong, and then looked good value for another point until a 78th-minute strike by Kamil Al-Aswad saw them fall 1-0 to Bahrain – a side that featured at AFC Asian Cup 2019 back in January.
Without experienced stalwarts Chan Vathanaka and Thierry Chantha Bin, a number of young guns rose to the occasion to show that the future of Cambodian football – under ambitious coach Keisuke Honda – is promising.
Star pupil: Keo Sokpheng – Without Vathanaka and Chantha Bin, it was down to Keo Sokpheng to lead the way for Cambodia and he did not disappoint. He found the back of the net against Hong Kong and provided a constant outlet in the attacking third.
Had they been graded solely on Tuesday’s 2-1 triumph over Palestine, Singapore would have passed with flying colours.
After all, the victory – courtesy of goals by Shakir Hamzah and Safuwan Baharudin – was against a side that played at the Asian Cup at the start of the year and were coming fresh off a shock 2-0 win over Uzbekistan.
However, the fact of the matter is the Lions should have a maximum haul of six points to their names as last week’s 2-2 draw with Yemen was certainly a winnable fixture, especially given they twice went ahead.
Overall, it has been a fruitful international break for a side looking towards better days under new coach Tatsuma Yoshida.
Star pupil: Shakir Hamzah – Plying their trade in the Malaysia Super League should not be the ultimate goal for Singapore footballers, but there can be no denying that Shakir Hamzah’s stint at Kedah has done him a world of good. The attack-minded left-back has a newfound maturity to his game and was always eager to make something happen for the Lions.
Myanmar’s campaign got off to an awful start when they lost 1-0 to Mongolia, a side they should be defeating if they are to truly reach where they want to be.
The creditable 2-0 loss to mighty Japan that followed did help restore some pride although they never really threatened the visitors, who might have added a few more goals if not for some horribly wet conditions at the Thuwunna Stadium.
Perhaps what was most disappointing for Myanmar was a distinct lack of impact from star names like Aung Thu, Kyaw Ko Ko and Maung Maung Lwin, who must shoulder plenty of blame after needlessly getting sent off against the Mongolians.
Star pupil: Nanda Kyaw – There were not many to choose from but Nanda Kyaw’s displays would have offered Myanmar some consolation. After bursting onto the international stage at the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, the left-back fell off the radar in recent years but his assured displays over the past week were in line with his impressive form for Shan United in 2019.
Based on the results alone, it was a disastrous week for Indonesia as they lost to regional rivals Malaysia and Indonesia, but were the performances that bad?
They probably deserved a point against Malaysia only to be dealt a sucker punch in the 7th minute of injury-time, but the manner in which they meekly surrendered to Thailand definitely let their passionate fans that had turned up at the Gelora Bung Karno.
After being kicked out of the qualifiers for the previous edition, it is heartening to see Indonesia back on the scene but their performances need to get better quickly.
Being drawn in Group G offers an excellent chance of progressing to the next round, but based on their current vulnerability in defence and lack of firepower in attack, they could find themselves stuck below all their neighbours.
Star pupil: Stefano Lilipaly – A star for Indonesia since the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, Stefano Lilipaly remains a genuine game changer. Beto Goncalves may have netted the two goals they scored but was rendered ineffective by the Thais, and it was Lilipaly who looked to be the main man making any sort of effort to get his team going.
Malaysia can look back on the past week with their heads held high following a couple of excellent displays.
They stuck at it all the way to beat Indonesia in dramatic fashion with Mohamadou Sumareh’s last-gasp winner, before narrowly losing 2-1 to Asian Cup 2019 semi-finalists United Arab Emirates having taken the lead.
There is a nice mix of youth and experience in this current Harimau Malaya outfit, and coach Tan Cheng Hoe also has plenty of depth to call on in the likes of Syahmi Safari, Shahrel Fikri Fauzi and Akram Mahinan – who all had to settle for a reserve role this time around.
With neither of the Group G sides looking dominant early on, Malaysia have plenty of reason to believe.
Star pupil: Syafiq Ahmad – There has been plenty of debate over where Syafiq Ahmad’s best position is, both for club and country, but Tan has perhaps found a solution in the shadow striker role. Starting behind Norshahrul Idlan Talaha as the central figure of a three-man attacking midfield, Syafiq then makes his way into the box when Harimau Malaya work the ball around the final third and has a real knack of popping up in goal-scoring positions.
After a 0-0 draw with Vietnam, Thailand showed what they are truly capable of as they romped to a 3-0 victory away to Indonesia.
With only one recognised striker in the squad, the War Elephants ultimately did well to cope with the absence of Teerasil Dangda, their long-serving focal point in attack.
Chanathip Songkrasin may not have lit up the stage in the way many expected but contributed as a calming influence, while Thailand fans will certainly be heartened by two clean sheets after how vulnerable their team has looked since the start of the year.
Having been the only Southeast Asian side to reach the third round of World Cup qualifying last time out, the War Elephants must be looking to repeat the feat at the very least.
Star pupil: Supachok Sarachat – Perhaps there should not have been that many concerns over Thailand’s lack of striking options, considering – in Supachok Sarachat – they have a gifted attacking midfielder who is no stranger to finding the back of the net. The Buriram United man was serviceable against Vietnam playing alongside Thitipan Puangchan up front, then produced a brilliant display to put the Indonesians to the sword as he worked off main striker Supachai Jaided to perfection.
It is definitely tough to really judge Vietnam given they were the only ASEAN side to play just one game.
But considering the strides they have made in recent times, coupled with the fact that Thailand were far from at their best, the Vietnamese really should have claimed a better result than last Thursday’s 0-0 draw.
Granted, it was an away encounter but the Thammasat Stadium is hardly the most imposing ground to travel to in the region, and victory would have seen them make a huge statement that they are now the dominant force in Southeast Asia.
Nonetheless, this is a supremely talented side under a coach that has proven plenty in Park Hang-seo, and they should be looking to get up and running against Malaysia and Indonesia next month.
Star pupil: Do Hung Dung – Given all the hype surrounding his team-mates such as Nguyen Quang Hai, Doan Van Hau and Nguyen Cong Phuong, it is easy for someone like Do Hung Dung to slip under the radar with his less eye-catching style of play. But what Hung Dung does, he does extremely well and – at the age of 26 but only with 14 caps to his name – he should now be looking to cement his spot in the Vietnam starting XI.