Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — Narrowly avoiding the "Death Group", four Group B teams have struggled to secure the top two positions for berths in the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup semi-finals.
Việt Nam and Malaysia both hope to win again. Hosts Myanmar want to repeat their win at the semi-finals, for only the second time in their history, while Cambodia are looking for their first ever last-four round.
Myanmar currently sit at No 156 in the FIFA ranking. Their most recent best result was earned in the semi-finals of 2004.
The one-time Southeast Asian football powerhouse, under German coach Gerd Zeise, will enter the tournament under pressure to do well as the co-host and improve their disappointing record.
However, the German expert started a "revolution" in gathering many of the 2015 World Cup’s U20 players, who were under his care, to form a very young squad in the senior set-up.
The team of youngsters was dispatched to a training course in Europe for six weeks in preparation for the regional tournament. They also took part in friendly matches. In the last six games, they won one, drew three and lost two. Earlier this month, Myanmar lost 0-3 to Oman after a goalless draw with Indonesia.
The results led to a nationwide appeal, as people asked Zeise to recall the team’s star striker Kyaw Ko Ko and midfielder Thiha Zaw, who had been dropped from the national team in September.
Zeise has preferred to play in-form strikers Win Naing Soe and Kaung Sett Naing and experienced skipper Win Min Htut. He also expected his talented youngsters, including defender Nanda Kyaw and forwards Aung Thu and Than Paing, to figure in the team.
However, he did not emphasise his team’s chances when speaking with the local media.
He said Myanmar would play their best, but he could not promise a berth in the semi-final round.
Cambodia earned their Cup’s final round after a brilliant performance, with three wins and maximum points in the qualification round to reach the group stage of the tournament for the first time in eight years.
The victory has boosted the confidence of the team, ranked No 167 in the world.
The Angkor Warriors are now proud of their team, who play aggressively, inspired by their golden boy Chan Vathanaka.
Vathanaka may have only scored twice, but his all-round displays, showcasing his skill, powerful running and deft passing, make him one of eight youngsters to watch out for during the tournament by FOX Sport Asia.
South Korean coach Lee Tae-hoon also believes in wide men Keo Sokpheng and Chhin Chheoun, playmaker Prak Mony Udom and defender Nub Tola. Their sparkling performance during qualification rounds provides a solid backbone for the Cambodian side.
They also enjoyed a run of friendly matches with just one defeat in five games
The 2010 champions, Malaysia, are heading into the Cup in a state of turmoil, as an ongoing dispute has stripped the team of several key players - Safiq Rahim, Aidil Zafuan, S. Kunanlan and Amirul Hadi - who retired from international football in July, while Aussie-born Brendan Gan has been sidelined due to serious injuries.
Coach Ong Kim Swee has had great difficulty filling the hole in his squad, which stand at No 164 in the world ranking.
However, he sees no reason why his side cannot reach the final.
Malaysia made an appearance in the final in the last edition of the tournament in 2014 but lost to Thailand, whereas they won the competition in 2010 after seeing off Indonesia.
“I think we can reach the final, but before talking about that, let’s focus on qualifying for the semi-finals first,” he said on foxsportsasia.com. “I believe this team can go far in this tournament, even though we had mixed results in the last three friendlies.”
In the lead-up to the tournament, Malaysia have played a number of friendlies but have not necessarily secured the results they wanted, as they lost one, drew three and won one.
Việt Nam head into the tournament aiming for redemption after crashing out of the 2014 tournament in a shock defeat to Malaysia in the last-four, when it had looked like they might go all the way.
The team are led by striker Lê Công Vinh, who expects a good result before he retires from international football.
Việt Nam also has a strong backbone with the presence of veteran Phạm Thành Lương and talented midfield duo Lương Xuân Trường and Nguyễn Tuấn Anh.
The squad have a well-balanced look, with the likes of experienced Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng and young forwards Nguyễn Văn Toàn and Nguyễn Công Phượng, a member of Mito Hollyhock in Japan, joining the line-up.
The Group B matches will be held on November 20, with Malaysia vs Cambodia playing first, followed by Việt Nam vs Myanmar, at the 32,000-seat Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon. — VNS