The AFF Suzuki Cup 2016 kicks off on Saturday with eight of the region’s top nations vying to become the champions of Southeast Asia.
In this preview we look at Group B, which features 2014 runners-up Malaysia, 2008 winners Vietnam, and first-time hosts Myanmar.
VIETNAM (2014: Semifinalists)
The previous edition’s semifinalists will look to top the group with a strong squad that includes ace striker Le Cong Vinh and Incheon United midfielder Luong Xuan Truong, although they will regret the withdrawal of Yokohama FC midfielder Nguyen Tuan Anh due to injury.
After bowing out of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying with a third-place finish in Group F, the Golden Stars have performed well in friendlies this summer, including a 5-2 win last month against DPR Korea as well as a draw and a win against Vietnam.
This will be head coach Nguyen Huu Thang’s first Suzuki Cup as a manager after playing in the 1996 through 2000 tournaments when the competition was known as the Tiger Cup. With an in-form side and players capable of dominating the center of the pitch, Vietnam will be favorites to pass through to the knockout stage with relative ease.
MYANMAR (2014: 4th Place, Group B)
Head coach Gerd Zeise is coming under pressure for his tactics and will have a difficult challenge ahead of him in Yangon as his side prepares to face Vietnam in their opening match on Sunday.
Zeise declined to call up several of the country’s more experienced players out of the squad, and will instead be relying on a core of players from the team that reached last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup, one of Mynamar’s most historic footballing achievements.
Attackers Aung Thu and Kaung Sett Naing will be the key players in what is expected to be a fluid “4-1-2-1-1-1” formation. A scoreless draw against Indonesia and a 3-0 loss to Oman heading into the competition have raised doubts regarding the team’s finishing, especially with striker Kyaw Ko Ko dropped from the squad.
MALAYSIA (2014: Runners-up)
After falling short against a dominant Thailand in the 2014 finals, Harimau Malaysia will looking to take the final step needed to win their first AFF title since 2010.
Coached by Ong Kim Swee, who until 2015 was in charge of the country’s U-23 team, Malaysia eased into the next round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification with a 6-0 aggregate win over Timor-Leste back in June, but recently have managed only a 2-1 win over Papua New Guinea following draws against Afghanistan and Singapore in October.
With his ability to maintain possession in the final third, striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha will alongside midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar be one of the team’s key players. Group B presents a surprisingly difficult path to the knockout stage, but the experienced side should have what it takes to still be playing in December.
CAMBODIA (2014: Did Not Participate)
The Angkor Warriors are back in the Suzuki Cup for the first time since 2008, having passed through the qualifying stage with wins against Laos,Brunei, and Timor Leste. In a pre-tournament friendly last Sunday, Lee Tae-Hoon’s men managed a narrow 1-0 loss at Singapore, an indication that the side could pose some surprises for the group.
The player garnering the most attention will be striker Chan Vathanaka, who is capable of threatening any defense with his technique and speed. The 22-year-old recently trialed for J3 League side Fujieda MYFC in Japan and could be especially motivated to deliver a standout performance.
With a young squad who gained vital experience in the second round of 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup Joint Qualification, Cambodia face a tough challenge ahead of them if they hope to reach their first-ever semifinal but could absolutely be a thorn in the side of favorites Vietnam and Malaysia.
SCHEDULE (All times UTC+6.5)
15:00 Malaysia vs. Cambodia (Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon)
18:00 Myanmar vs. Vietnam (Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon)
15:00 Malaysia vs. Vietnam (Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon)
18:00 Cambodia vs. Myanmar (Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon)
18:00 Vietnam vs. Cambodia (Wunna Theikdi Stadium, Naypyidaw)
18:00 Myanmar vs. Malaysia (Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon)