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AFF Suzuki Cup 2014 - Group A preview

AFF Suzuki Cup
Two years have passed very fast and so here we are again. ASEAN's biennial premier tournament, the AFF Suzuki Cup is back with its tenth edition.


As usual, if the AFF Suzuki Cup is on, we take a close look at both groups. This time, however, with support of some experts and Blogger. We want to start with Group A, and Vietnam which is co-hosting the regions premier tournament for the 4th time and could win the title in 2008. Beside the winner of 2008, the Philippines, Indonesia and Laos fighting for a place in the semi-finals.

Vietnam

A hosting nation is always hotly tipped and so is Vietnam to win Group A. Especially if one is playing in front of 40,000 which can turn a stadium into hell. Of course it also could change to the opposite and to play in front of its own fans could become a heavy burden with immense pressure.

How crazy the Vietnameses are after football appeared only recently with the U-19 AFF championships. Vietnam as host faced Japan in the final - in the same stadium the AFF Cup is going to be held - and it was sold out. It went even thus far that fans have rioted because they got no tickets for the game. So anyone can easily imagine which atmosphere the guests and the home side is to face.

With the Japanese Toshiya Miura Vietnam have a foreign coach for the first time since the dismissal of Falk Gotz in December 2011. Besides, Miura can fall back on the experience of 6 years as head coach in the J-League.

Vietnam expert and freelance journalist Erick Bui about Vietnam: "Vietnam has longest preparation among all AFF Cup participants as the team has been training together for 3 months. They played 11 friendly games and had a 3-week training camp in Japan. The most recent game was 3-1 home win over Malaysia on Nov 16 but the game raised more concern over weak defence than confidence.

Expectation is low following consecutive failures in regional tournaments and a troubled local football season. The national team are also somehow overshadowed by the U19 team.

New coach Toshiya Miura joined in May and brought the unfamiliar direct football style to the national team that led to the exclusion of some veterans such as Huynh Quoc Anh and Nguyen Vu Phong. The 2008 AFF Suzuki Cup champions have only three players left from the successful campaign inlcluding biggest star Le Cong Vinh. However, hope will lie on the shoulders of the likes of Nguyen Van Quyet and Nguyen Anh Duc who have found themselves in focal point of national team recently."

Indonesia

It is hard to believe, but the country with the biggest population in South-East Asia could never lift the AFF Cup. Despite players like Bambang Pamungkas and Kurniawan Dwi Yulianto. "The Red and White" reached the final on four occasions and failed every time. The last time in 2010 against Malaysia when they could grab their first AFF Cup title. At that time Austrian Alfred Riedl was in charge of Indonesia for the first time and now returned for a second stint. He is one of the most recognized foreign coaches in the region. The only thing he lacks - are the trophies. He has led Vietnam and Indonesia to five Finals, SEA-Games and AFF Cup combined. A flaw as eternal runner-up that he certainly would like to get rid of sooner rather than later.

Irfan Bachdim

not picked by Riedl: Irfan Bachdim
image: © thai-fussball.com

Teams under the reigns of Riedl are known for their team spirit and fighting strength. Without ignoring the playful element of the game. He put no hold for big names and sorts out pitilessly. Titus Bonei can't be found in the 2014 final AFF Suzuki Cup squad as well as Irfan Bachdim who earned his money in Thailand last year. Nevertheless, there are still a few old acquaintances to be found, like in the most true sense of the word, the 38 year-old Cristian Gonzáles, and Thailand legionnaire Sergio van Dijk from Suphanburi FC. Another old face from the TPL is Victor Igbonefo who played for Chiang Rai United 2012.

One surprise is the nomination of Evan Dimas (Persebaya) who made his name with the Under-19's over the last 12 months but has yet to make his Indonesia Super League debut.

Philippines

On the German Michael Weiss who led the Azkals to the semi-finals two years ago, a child of the Bundesliga followed at the helm with Tom Dooley. For the 52-year-old it is just his second stint as a head coach, after Saarbrucken - the club Witthaya Hloagune played for in the 80's - a good 10 years ago. At the beginning of the year Dooley has given up his position as an assistant coach to Jurgen Klinsmann in the USA to take on this challenge.

His term at the office in the Philippines started with some turmoil. Three players did declare not to play for the Azkals while Dooley is in charge. Stephan Schrock (Greuther Furth), Dennis Cagara (ex Karlsruhe SC and Dynamo Dresden), as well as goalkeeper Neil Etheridge (Oldham Athletic). In response the European Cup winner of 1996 (with Schalke 04) blamed these players for lacking professionalism and of egoism.

Other players are missed in the squad In the squad for the AFF Cup are Goalkeeper Roland Muller, in services of Servette Geneva, and Javier Patino from  Buriram United. Because the Championship is not played on FIFA matchdays there is no obligation to release players for their national duties. This is valid for Muller and Patino as well as Schrock. Although Patino has topically no obligations. But you won't find a player from Buriram in the squad of Thailand anyway (Adisak Kraisorn moved to BEC Tero Sasana).

Whit the Azklas starting a trip down memory lane when traveling to Vietnam, Dooley primarily relies on players from the domestic UFL. 2014 like 2010 Vietnam is co-hosting the AFF Cup. And that time in 2010 at the Mỹ Đěnh Stadium, the Philippines were able to create a sensation lead by coaching nobody Simon McMenemy. Not only they beat the host in front of 40,000 fanatical fans, the Philippines progressed to the semi-finals for the first time and with it kicked off a football euphoria in the basketball-mad country.

Taken the Philippines friendly results, there is little one can read off. Taiwan, Nepal, Cambodia and Papa New Guinea, are meanwhile opponents the Azkals are superior. Against Laos, the opening opponent this Saturday, could be beaten 2-0 earlier this year. The only serious test the Philippines had recently has been against Thailand two weeks ago. After the game Dooley declared the Thais favorite to win the tournament and tagged them as the best team in the region.

Laos

As usual, Laos are the underdog. Together with Myanmar one had to qualify via the preliminary round. If the draw to the final round had taken place only four weeks later, so in September, Laos would have been entitled for the final round and the Thais would have had to play the qualifiers instead of theirs. Since for the seeding the current position in the FIFA world ranking is decisive.

Both Thai legionaries Khampheng Sayavutthi (Ang Thong FC) and Soukaphone Vongchiengkham (Saraburi FC) carried the main portion in the successful qualification, measured in goals. Still waiting for a win at the AFF Cup since 2004, one is self-confident in the camp of the underdog. Mano Nhouvannasak an old friend of this platform who hang up his boots a few years ago has become Assistant General Secretary at Lao FF meantime. He told us: "We want to reach the semi-finals! Mentally we are in a good state and the other teams have the pressure. We not."

The Englishman David Booth, who is no stranger in the region, is in charge on the touchline. "He was very good in 2010 and because we have dismissed Norio Tsukitate we got the idea to pull him in again. He is a good coach, understands the players and the culture" Mano on the signing of the 66-year-old.
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