Tuesday, September 18, 2012


AFF Cup Preparation

The biannual ASEAN Football Federation Cup kicks off with the qualifying rounds next month, hosted in Myanmar, but the region’s heavyweights have already began their preparations.
Six countries have already qualified for the two week event which will initially be hosted in Malaysia and Thailand. The hosts are joined by Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and The Philippines leaving the five other member nations of ASEAN, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei and Timor Leste to battle it out for the final two places.
Malaysia, the holders from 2010, and Vietnam, who won it two years before, met in Shah Alam Stadium with Vietnam earning a surprise 2-0 win. Despite their 2008 triumph the Vietnamese were disappointing when it came to defending their trophy and this win will be a great boost to their morale.
One team that could do with a morale boost is Indonesia. The current squad are not even sure whether they will be in contention for places when the competition comes round, such is the uncertainty that surrounds the game there.
Everyday seems to bring more bad news for followers of Indonesian football and the latest came on Monday evening when a sparse crowds, dwarved in the cavernous Bung Karno Stadium, witnessed a poor performance as the home team lost 2-0 to North Korea.
Indonesia and Vietnam meet later this week in Surabaya and the home team will be hoping for a decent turn out off the field coupled with a decent showing on it. But Vietnam’s win in Selangor will give them an edge.
Singapore’s international fortunes have been marginally better than their giant southern neighbours. They, at least, have won a game in recent memory, 2-0 against Hong Kong, though last time out they were held by the Philippines on home turf. And a do mean turf; the playing surface looked better equipped for horses!
Myanmar is a difficult place to go at any time and with confidence low in the Singapore camp they would surely have preferred a ‘softer’ opponent. They will then view a 1-1 draw there as a good result, especially after having a man sent off.
The Thais have won the AFF Cup three times but last time out they couldn’t get out of the group stage and struggled to get a draw against Laos. With a strong domestic league, peopled by influential business people and politicians the national team has become almost an after thought over recent years forcing current coach Winnie Schaeffer to pen an open letter to the Thai Football Association pleading for some competitive friendlies before the tournament begins.
They hosted Laos and just scraped a 2-1 win in front of their own supporters. Their first game since the end of February.
The team that appears to be going into the AFF Cup with the best preparation are The Philippines. They reached the semi finals last time round and were forced to play the ‘home’ leg of their semi final away from home because they lacked any suitable facilities themselves.
They have been preparing in earnest and their 2-0 win in Singapore last week was their 11th friendly of the year with just one defeat in that run. And there is more to come with games lined up against Macau, Chinese Taipei, Bahrain, Kuwait and a return leg against Singapore before the cup begins.
The Philippines are showing spirit and adventure beyond their ASEAN rivals by choosing opponents beyond their own backyard but it remains to be seen whether it will pay off or not.
The Azkals, as they are known, will either be the best prepared team this year or the most tired!

First appeared in Jakarta Globe

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