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AFR: In South-East Asia, the Suzuki Cup commences

A Football Report: Soraya Soemadiredja, Manila

South-East Asia is football mad, and collectively one of the largest consumers of European football* in the world. This December, it’s all about Asia though, and we’ll see all the big names in their region performing for their countries. The ASEAN Football Federation’s Suzuki Cup will commence in South-East Asia, co-hosted by Indonesia and Vietnam. The Cup has been around since 1996, originally called the Tiger Cup and come the eve of the new year, will another side be in possession of the coveted cup? In Group A, we have Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Laos. In Group B, we have Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar and the Philippines. Read on for a lightning quick introduction to each of the contenders.

First up in Group A is host Indonesia. In the run up to this tournament, coach Alfred Riedl expelled arguably the most prolific striker on the National Team, Boas Salossa who scored 28 goals for his club, PERSIPURA Jayapura in Papua the 2009 season, for breaches of discipline. Despite this setback, the Merah Putih have a large supply of talent at their disposal and can rely on their celebrated captain Bambang Pamungkas, most capped player in the history of the country’s national team, and experienced nationalised Uruguayan Christian Gonzalez at the helm. However, they are not short of younger goal-makers, the likes of Yongki Aribowo and Oktavianus Maniani on their squad ready to show their worth. Indonesia will be looking to go out of this tournament on a high and win their first Cup of this tournament, having been runners up three times in the past and reclaiming their football glory from the history books into the present. Coming into their first match day, Malaysia’s squad has been beset by injury woes. However, manager Datuk Subahan Kamal has claimed that the team is “not experienced enough” and he isn’t looking to pressure his young squad to win the tournament but is emphasising the importance of building a team for the future. Despite this, the Tigers’ dynamicism and youth could prove to be contenders, with most of his squad having had international experience recently with the Asian Games in Guangzhou. Thailand, coached by Bryan Robson, is going to rely on two veterans to provide experience and influence over the younger squad members, playmaker Therdsak Chaiman and midfielder Sutee Suksomkit, from the squad that beat Indonesia in the 2002 finals, as well as highly experienced younger players who’ve had stints in international clubs as far as the EPL. As three-time champion of this tournament, and strongest teams coming into this will want to erase the memory of their 2008 final loss to Vietnam and go home with fourth trophy. Laos fought to qualify by tying with their neighbours Cambodia as well as the Philippines and beating Timor Leste 6-1 in Vientiane last October. They came out of the qualifying stage with 5 points, beating the Philippines to the top by a 5 goal margin. With their manager David Booth, doing double duty between this job and a job managing Indian side Mahindra United, this relatively young squad will want to calmly prove that they can play with the big boys of ASEAN football and as well as be the successful underdogs of Group A. Among others, look out for Lamnoum Singto and Soukhaphone Vongchiengkham, both key players in their impressive wins in their most recent matches.

In Group B, the defending champions, Vietnam, is the other co-host. They will be looking for a successful defense of their trophy on home soil and win it for the second time. Despite this, they, and manager Henrique Calisto, know they’re up for a tough test and that their 2008 upset will not soon be forgotten, having between favourites Thailand and Singapore. Le Cong Vinh was the man of the moment two years ago, and if he manages to recover from his knee surgery, Asian football fans can look to him as a key inspiration for the Vietnamese Dream, 2010 edition. The city-state of Singapore is always a strong contender in football in the Southeast Asian region. Coach Radojko Avramovic, who’s been at the helm of the Lions since 2003, has picked his squad based on their experience in previous Cup competitions and knows both his team and his competition well and feel the group they were drawn into will benefit them. They’re no stranger to the AFF Cup, having won this trophy three times in the past, beating Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand for their respective 198, 2005 and 2007 titles. Myanmar, the darkhorses of the tournament. Their coach, Tin Myint Aung, in place since February, is putting out arguably the countrry’s strongest side in their history. None of their opponents will want to underestimate their side, because despite not having reached the finals in the past tournaments, they gave their opposition a difficult time and this time will want to continue to shake up Southeast Asian football. The Philippines had to fight for a qualifying spot in October in Vientiane, Laos, gaining 5 points by beating Timor Leste 5-0, tying with Cambodia and fellow Suzuki Cup team, Laos, and scoring a total of 7 goals. They missed out on the last tournament but they’re going in to prove that their nation, famous for its love of basketball, can soon be considered a massive football loving nation too. Simon McMenemy and his coaching team are relying on an exciting team of young talent, like the midfield duo of James and Philip Younghusband, veterans of Chelsea’s youth team, who have become a fixture on the domestic football side, as well as the likes of striker Ian Araneta, who netted a hat-trick, all three off of headers and defender, Anton del Rosario, all of whom played key roles in the qualifying campaign.

All their matches will be played between My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi and Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta. The winners and the runners up of the groups will play each other in a two-leg format on the 15th-16th and 18th-19th of December, with the finals played in a two-leg format on the 26th and 29th of December. So, by new year’s eve, one of these eight countries will be in possession of the Suzuki Cup and be leaders of South-East Asia.

*Admittedly, this may be an unproven statistic but when you visit any country in the region, just look around in private homes, and public spaces around any major city or even tiny town, it will be all about football, and a large proportion will be of the European variety.

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