Friday, November 23, 2012


The Group Of Fear

Indonesia go into their opening game at the AFF Cup with the infantile bickering dividing players and clubs and leaving arguably their better players behind.

It is indeed an unfamiliar squad. Bambang Pamungkas and Elie Aiboy will be familiar names to many; they should be, both have been round long enough. And Irfan Bachdim along with Oktavianus Maniani made an impact two years ago but beyond that many will struggle with the players wearing the merah putih when they line up against Laos on Sunday.

While Irfan has matured on the field, thankfully he seems to have decided to concentrate on being a footballer and not an air headed celebrity, Okta is still the same. He plays with all the urgency and direction of a Duracell Bunny though admittedly the floppy eared ones tend to have more end product.

Don't worry, The players will also struggle. They drew 0-0 against a young Cameroon team filled with players looking for clubs here. They struggled to beat Timor Leste 1-0 before that. Two goalless draws against Vietnam, home and away, look quite good as does a 5-0 win away to Brunei but need to be put in context. This is a team that struggles to find the net.

They have looked like strangers, not a team and the only silver lining ahead is the fact their rivals have been less than impressive as well. One win in five games?

Malaysia were held 1-1 by Bangladesh earlier this week. That follows a similar result against Hong Kong, also at home, and a 2-0 defeat away to Thailand and defeat away to Vietnam. No wins in their last four games!

Malaysia of course are the champions and the hosts. Their first game is on Sunday against bitter rivals, must find a synonym for that collocation, Singapore. And the Lions seem to be going into the tournament at least on a run of form. They thumped Pakistan this week 4-0. That followed a narrow defeat away to the Philippines, 1-0, and another defeat against a Japanese club side in Japan.

They also beat India 2-0 at home on an awful pitch. Two wins in four is better than Malaysia and Indonesia can look back on.

Then we have Laos. They are the whipping boys. They should be. Aren't they? But wait a minute. I saw them come very close to beating Thailand two years back, the Thais clawing back a 2-0 deficit. And in the age groups Laos have been performing much better, claiming some big scalps along the way.

But their form is as patchy as the other members of the group. Forget their game against Krabi, I already have, they have one draw and three defeats on their last four games, conceding four in each of their last two games along the way.

People talk about the group of death so much it has become as much a part of previews as inane interviews with players who say they want to win (of course they wanna bloody win, doh!) this group smacks of fear. Based on current form any of the four could go through as easily as go out.

Malaysia will have a home crowd and experience behind them but that recent poor form will be gnawing at Rajagopal over the next few hours. Singapore have experience and young players coming through but much will depend, as always, on Aleksander Duric.

They would normally be favourites. But given their inconsistencies both Indonesia and Laos, with their own demons, still stand a chance.

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