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Guide To The 2008 ASEAN Cup





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South East Asia gets together for its biennial tournament at the end of this week. Eight teams are all set to do battle in Indonesia's capital Jakarta and the Thai tourist resort of Phuket.


Despite the fact that the participating octet always seem to be meeting on some far-flung pitch in and around the region, the ASEAN competition - now known as the AFF Suzuki Cup, formerly called the Tiger Cup) -is the best in Asia.

Even with such familiarity, it surpasses the Gulf Cup and the East Asian editions. Teams from east and west have other theatres of conflict such as Asian Cups and final stages of World Cup qualification, South Asia's tournament lacks a little depth leaving the AFF Cup an exciting, important and fairly open competition.

There have been problems off the pitch already. Political upheavals in Thailand forced organizers to move Group B matches away from Bangkok down to the tourist resort of Phuket.

Now it is time to focus on the football though in this competition, controversy is never far away.

Group A

Indonesia

It is less than 18 months since the Asian Cup. Then Indonesia impressed as a team full of spirit and energy and the fans wowed visitors by providing the same on the mighty terraces of the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. Against the likes of Saudi Arabia and South Korea, it was all about plucky underdogs punching above their weight.

Now the pressure is on as the co-hosts are expected to reach the final. Coach Benny Dollo has been told as much and there are signs that he is feeling the strain – complaining about the players' lack of fitness a week ahead of a major tournament is not always wise, especially after you have been in charge for a year.

Last time: Finished third in their group, level on points with the top two but with an inferior goal difference.

Singapore

The lions are going for a three-peat. Over the years, Singapore have developed into South-East Asia's most consistent performers though the city-state's policy of naturalizing foreign players doesn't always sit well with their rivals.

There is a feeling that if you want to lift this trophy then somewhere along the line, you have to tame the lions. Hard-working, solid at the back and with an aerial threat in attack under the guise of Alexsander Duric in great form, Singapore have a good chance.

Last time: Won it and did the same the time before too. The team that the co-hosts will fear the most.

Myanmar

The Burmese don't have the best of records in this competition and have only made it past the group stage once. That was back in 2004 when they reached the semi-final and what a clash it was. They were drawing 5-5 on aggregate with Singapore after 90 minutes of the second leg but lost 8-5 after extra-time thanks to a complete loss of discipline.

Marcus Falopa’s men won the recent T&T Cup against the likes of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam but playing in Yangon and playing in Jakarta are different things though if Seo Myat Min can continue his good form, there is always a chance.

Last time: Were a little unlucky. Drew all three matches to be squeezed out by Malaysia. If only they hadn’t conceded that 94th minute equalizer against Thailand.

Cambodia

The rank outsiders in the group and the boys from Phnom Penh would be ecstatic to reach the last four. An opener against defending champions Singapore is not the best of starts – although if Cambodia can avoid defeat in Jakarta then who knows? Defeated Laos though finished second in qualification. Any points on the board will be most welcome.

Last time: Failed to qualify.

Group B

Thailand

Thai eyes will be on how Peter Reid handles his first real test as coach. Winning the competition will buy him time, kudos and a good deal of good will as he aims to start rebuilding the team that not so long ago was the top dog in the region. That may not quite be the case these days but the Thais are still seen as one of the teams to beat and playing in their own backyard, fans will be hoping for a first title since 2002.

Reid has professed to be impressed with the level of talent at his disposal, if he can get the team scoring goals, then he could have a future in Bangkok.

Last time: Lost a tempestuous final to Singapore.

Malaysia

Every year that passes means that Malaysia's heyday retreats further into the past. Gone are the days when the team prevailed over regional rivals – or are they? The disaster that befall the nation and its football scene at the 2007 Asian Cup is still fresh in the memory and the first task of the team over the next week or so, is to restore some pride.

Performances at the recent Challenge Cup were mixed and failure to reach the semi-finals will more than likely cost coach B. Sathianathan his job.

Last time: Few Malaysian fans will forget a semi-final penalty shootout defeat at the hands of Singapore.

Vietnam

There hasn't been much to shout about for fans in the football-mad nation of Vietnam since the team reached the quarter-finals of the 2007 Asian Cup. Recently, coach Henrique Calisto bemoaned the amount of pressure on his team but after an early exit from qualification for the 2010 World Cup and a recent bad run of results, it is not hard to see why football bosses and fans are not too thrilled.

Vietnam haven't won this year and do not as a rule travel well. Much rests on the opening game with the co-hosts.

Last time: Lost to the Thais in the semis.

Laos

It’s time to erase memories of the last tournament. 2007 saw the team thrashed 11-0 by Singapore and 9-0 by Vietnam One of the two qualifiers for the competition, the visitors from Vientiane are rank outsiders. In South-east Asia, Laos are a nation known for developing young talent and then not doing an awful lot with it.

Any points on the board would be cause for celebration. It won't be easy especially as the coach is using this tournament to prepare for next year's SEA Games in Laos – though they did manage to surprise Philippines with a 3-2 win in qualification.

Last time: Don’t ask – played 3, lost 3, scored one, conceded 23





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Guide To The 2008 ASEAN Cup Reviewed by admin Ucop on 7:56 PM Rating: 5

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