The 10th AFF Suzuki Cup heads to Vietnam and Singapore between 22 November and 20 December 2014. With a number of teams in form and other surprises sure to come to the fore, the month-long South-East Asia football festival will not be one to miss.
Eight teams are divided into two groups, with each pool to be played in the two host nations, who join fellow previous champions Thailand and Malaysia among others. On November 22 at My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, Philippines and Laos will sing their anthems, shake one anothers’ hands, and kick off the region’s most awaited competition.
What will be the interesting factor of this year’s tournament? The four powerhouses are each chasing a different version of history. Vietnam and Malaysia are looking to clinch their second trophy after claiming their first in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Indonesia, four-time runners up, a record amongst contestants, are still looking to end their painful trophy drought.
Then there are last year’s finalists: Singapore are looking to stretch their record four victories into a fifth, and three-time champions Thailand are looking to match their rivals with a fourth trophy. Neither side is without weakness; Thailand have to cope with pressure as new head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang axed big names such as Teerasil Dangda and Datsakorn Thonglao during preparations, instead choosing to fill his squad with new faces. Singapore, meanwhile, have bigger concerns. Bernd Stange’s men have won just two matches from eight played this year, a poor showing by the reigning champions.
But if the favorites stumble, there are other teams to pick up the slack. Vietnam are sure to give it their all in front of the home crowd; their Nguyen Van Quyet-anchored front line is the stuff of dreams even as their defensive options cause plenty of sleepless nights. Then there’s Indonesia, who look to be hitting their stride at exactly the right time with a squad built around the magnificent Zulham Zamrun and Dutch-born striker Sergio van Dijk.
Philippines’ unreal collection of improving talent are starting to come under a little pressure to achieve something tangible, and several new half-bloods like Alvaro Linares, Daisuke Sato and Martin Steuble are ready to consolidate with Younghusbands’ generation. Malaysia are always Malaysia, even when you least expect it. Under Dollah Salleh’s guidance, their expectation ahead of the tournament at minimum level, yet they still have chance to perform well.
Then there’s stable of dark horses, namely Myanmar and Laos. The two nations have again reached the main tournament through the qualification stage, and either has the capacity to bloody one or two supposedly superior noses. Myanmar have a couple of young and talented individuals from their Under-19 team,, who successfully qualified for U-20 World Cup, such as Nyein Chan Aung and Kyaw Min Oo. The same is true of Laos; there are some young and unheralded talents such as Soukaphone Vongchiengkham and Khonesavanh Sihavong who can surely introduce themselves with the guidance of experienced coach David Booth.
All of the ingredients are there for an unpredictable and exciting tournament. Depending on your luck, it may be your favored country lifting the trophy on December 20. There will be joy, and there will be tears, but the AFF Suzuki Cup will remain Southeast Asia’s most anticipated competition.