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AFF Suzuki Cup 2014 - Group B 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. After Group A, it's time for Group B. The "group of the death" of the 2014 edition consists of titleholder and 4-time winner Singapore, 3-time winner Thailand, one-timer Malaysia and underdog Myanmar.

Singapore National Stadium

Singapore National Stadium
image: © thai-fussball.com

Before we head into our preview of the teams in Group B, a word needs to be said about the venues. Because for the first time in history of the AFF Cup, two venues with artificial turf will be used. The Jalan Besar Stadium, where Thailand lost to Singapore 3-1 in the first leg of the 2012 final, was planned to be used only for the third matchday of the Group.

But with Singapore's new Billion Dollar National Stadium having so much problems with its state of the art hybrid pitch (the same Bayern Munchen just have rolled out in the Allianz Arena some month ago), more fixtures  needed to be shifted to the Jalan Besar. So every matchday is going to be played at two different venues. To spare pitches, and for a better football game the AFF may could consider such a, forced, solution for the future. As seen on Saturday at the Mỹ Đình National Stadium in Hanoi, the green was in a terrible state just with the opening game will have to endure five matches within a week.

But let's move on to our preview and we are delighted that Neo from axrosstheline.com gives us his thoughts on Thailand, Singapore and Myanmar of Group B, while Southeast Asian expert and freelance writer Gabriel Tan looks at Malaysia.

Singapore

Singapore, in my opinion will join Thailand in the semi-final of the competition. Its not because of patriotism that made me say this, but there are plenty of aspects to be optimistic about. With home ground advantage and support, The Lions can even  top the group above Thailand if they beat the War Elephants on the opening day of the competition here.

The spine of the team is solid and the core of the team is still very much in the thick of things. Hariss Harun and Shahdan Sulaiman forms an entirely new looking central midfield pairing and both players will be crucial to the set up. They came through the prepatory stage with good performances. Hassan Sunny, 2014 Singapore player of the year will be the key man in defending Singapore their crown. The much sought after goalkeeper in South East Asia will be protected by probably ASEAN's best central defensive pairing in Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin - both winners of the competition in 2012.

One uncertainty which Singapore have is the left midfield position. Head Coach Bernd Stange has tried out different players in that particular position but I am quite sure he has already figured out who will start in that berth.

Also watch out for Shahril Ishak, our Captain. The three-time winner of this competition is enjoying a new lease of life as a playmaking midfielder. He did very well in that role, and even got himself onto the score sheet in the final preparation game against Cambodia.

I also think that Faris Ramli, one of the most talented young player in Asia football will shine in this competition. Faris was a key performer in the Malaysia Super League with LionsXII and in the build up to the Suzuki Cup, Faris put in matured performances despite his young age for the country.

The problem with Singapore will be that they are lacking in depth. There are probably 14-15 of the 22-man squad capable of doing vying for a first team place, apart from that group, the rest of the players have got not much experience on the international stage, so it could be a problem.

Thailand

Thailand are probably the most complete team going into this competition, with head Coach Kiatisuk Senamuang opting for youths from the Asian Games squad which made the Asian Games semi-final.

After watching both their games against the Philippines (3-0 win) and New Zealand (2-0 win), I am quite convinced that they will book their place in the last four without breaking much sweat. Thailand's starting line-up against the All Withes had an average age of 23.8.

As a keen follower of the Thai Premier League, what I can say about this Thailand squad is that we can expect all 22 players vying for places in the starting lineup. They have depth, and every nation going into any international needs that. Majority from the squad have been together for a while and their level of performances through friendly matches and the Asian Games have been top notch.

Charyl Chappuis

Chappuis: ready to shine
image: © thai-fussball.com

I am very impressed with the midfield trio of Chanatip Songkrasin, Sarach Yooyen and Charyl Chappuis. The three youngsters are expected to play active roles during the tournament.

Thailand plays the short passing game around the trio mentioned above and in order to apply this style of play effectively, the fitness level of the team needs to be at a very high level. That is something Thailand need not worry about. They have plenty of hard runners with or without the ball.

Kiatisuk's rapport with the team is another major factor which I think will be useful in the tournament. He seem to have a good relationship with the players and being a legend himself helps, as the players give him a lot of respect.

I am convinced Thailand will finish the group on top of the table unless some thing really unfortunate happens. They should make up for their past disappointments with this squad considering they are a side, which has the most number of appearances in the Final of this competition.

Malaysia

Experience will be the name of the game for Malaysia at the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup after coach Dollah Salleh opted to recall several veterans in his 22-man squad.

Nine players that have been selected were part of the side that landed Harimau Malaya’s first regional title in 2010, including playmaker Safiq Rahim, goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi and strikers Safiq Rahim and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha.

However, Dollah has gone one step further by including the likes of Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Shukor Adan; the latter having first represented his country in 2001.

Since taking over the job in June, the 51-year-old has struggled to get his side firing and they have won just once in five matches since he was appointed – a 4-1 victory over Cambodia in September.

Dollah’s cause has not been helped by the fact that the country’s big-name strikers have had miserable seasons in 2014, with Safee and Norshahrul – once regarded as the most fearsome strike partnership in Southeast Asia – combining for just three goals in the Malaysia Super League for Johor Darul Ta’zim.

With the two of them misfiring, the goal-scoring burden is likely to fall on the shoulders of Amri Yahyah, another veteran who has admittedly had an excellent year helping JDT to the league title, although even he could only hit the back of the net seven times in all competition.

Injuries have also robbed Harimau Malaya of the services of talismanic centre-back Aidil Zafuan, as well as exciting winger R. Gopinathan, who is coming off the back of a terrific year with Pahang.

Still, with established names like Safiq, Fahmi and S. Kunanlan to call upon, the Malaysians still have a relatively strong side and could even challenge for top honours if Safee and Norshahrul suddenly find their form.

Nonetheless, for the first time in a while, expectations from the Harimau Malaya faithful have been extremely muted ahead of the region’s premier competition, especially after being drawn in what many have named the “Group of Death”.

Myanmar

The underdogs are usually the most dangerous of all because they have nothing to lose, I think Myanmar fit the bill perfectly. They are managed by the most successful coach in ASEAN football - Radojko Avramovic - and on their day, they can beat anyone.

As winners of the qualification round, Myanmar join the group of death and they are overwhelming underdogs in a group that consists of three previous winners of the competition.

But ASEAN football fans know Avramovic very well, and he has built a reputation for himself as being someone who won't be defeated easily, no thanks to his conservative approach to games.

In fact he won a title with Singapore registering five draws throughout the entire tournament in 2007. That to me, is a remarkable achievement. Avramovic did not have his full squad during the qualifiers and it is understood that the Myanmar Football Federation will do all they can to provide the best available players for Avramovic's side.

Its good news that Kyi Lin is fit again, and Kyaw Ko Ko is knocking in the goals. If Avramovic can get Kyaw Zayar Win available, it should be a good fight in all the games.

Don't expect anything flashy from Myanmar. Their style of play has changed under Avramovic. The focus now is about "getting the job done" which they achieved during the qualifiers.
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