PETALING JAYA: National team coach Tan Cheng Hoe sees Vietnam as the biggest threat in the 2020 AFF Suzuki Cup after being drawn with the defending champions in Group B.
The Harimau Malaya will also rekindle their rivalry with Indonesia in the group which also consists of Cambodia and Laos in the 13th edition of Asean’s most prestigious football championship, which will be held from Dec 5 to Jan 1.
In the online draw made in Singapore yesterday, favourites Thailand are in Group A together with Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and the winner of the qualification round between Brunei and Timor-Leste in a single-leg match.
The Asean Football Federation (AFF) have decided to host the entire tournament in a centralised venue instead of the usual home-and-away format and are in the final stages of selecting a host country for the centralised venue.
The previous edition of the competition was hosted in a home-and-away format, from the group stage till the final.
Cheng Hoe, who guided the national team to the runners-up finish following a 3-2 aggregate loss in the final in the previous edition in 2018, said the team need to finish in the top two to advance from the group stage and thereby cannot take any opponents lightly.
“The draw is not much different compared to when we played the competition in this region.
“Even in the age group, we met each other and everyone knows each other well.
“Vietnam are the favourites, we also have Indonesia in the group whom we have a long rivalry with.
“Cambodia are another side we cannot take lightly as they have talented players in their squad.
“We also cannot take Laos for granted,” said Cheng Hoe, who added that the team coaches will monitor the players’ progress in domestic competitions and also look at other teams’ preparations.
“Vietnam will be the team to beat as they are in the final round of the World Cup qualifiers and they are at a different level.”
The tournament, supposed to have been held late last year, was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Malaysia emerged champions in 2010 and finished runners-up in 1996, 2014 and 2018, placing them among four nations who have won the biennial tournament, which began in 1996.
Thailand are the most successful, having won the title five times (1996, 2000, 2002, 2014 and 2016), followed by Singapore with four (1998, 2004, 2007 and 2012) and Vietnam two (2008 and 2018).
Cheng Hoe said the competition’s change to a centralised carnival-based competition could affect the team’s performance.
“The format is different for this edition... The 2018 format of home-and-away matches gave the players the extra motivation as we have home matches but we will play in a centralised venue now.”
GROUPA: Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Brunei or Timor Leste (winner of qualification round).
GROUP B: Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos