Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fast forward to Friday

A relaxed Cambodia national team pose just before leaving for Jakarta
National team coach Prak Sovannara and his 22-man Cambodia football squad have arrived in Indonesia and checked into their home for the next week, the plush 700-room, five-star Sultan Hotel in Jakarta. They have a couple of days to complete their preparations before facing the Lions of Singapore in their first of three matches, on Friday evening at the Bung Karno Stadium, which has an 88,000 capacity. Star Sports are televising the games I'm told, so tune in to see if the Cambodian team can reverse the last meeting between the two countries in the AFF Cup. Singapore beat Cambodia 3-0 in a group game when they last met in 2004, when the competition was known as the Tiger Cup and held in Vietnam. Singapore went onto win the trophy. In the other group matches that year Cambodia lost to Vietnam (9-1), Laos (2-1) and Indonesia (8-0). The competition finals are held every two years and 2004 was the last occasion that Cambodia managed to qualify. The last time Cambodia recorded a win in the AFF Cup was a 1-nil last-minute success over the Philippines in 2002, after crushing defeats by Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Cambodia are the competition's underdogs and that will come sharply into focus in the first game against the holders and AFF Suzuki Cup favourites Singapore. Coached by two-time AFF Cup winner Radi Avramovic, the Singapore attack will be led by in-form Serbian striker 38-year-old Aleksandar Duric, six foot three inches tall, and top scorer in the recently completed S-League with 28 goals for the champions Singapore Armed Forces. He will definitely be a handful for the Cambodian defence which has been the team's weakest area in recent matches. It's interesting that Singapore operate a Foreign Sports Talent scheme where foreign-born players can get citizenship after 2 or 3 years of playing football in the S-League and are then eligible for the national team. Journeyman Duric has lived in Singapore for the last eight years, has plied his trade with fifteen different clubs including a long stint in Australia, where he also received citizenship, and represented Bosnia-Herzegovina in canoeing at the 1992 Olympics. As for Cambodia, they will be relying on homegrown players like Khim Borey and Sam El Nasa to get the goals to sink the Suzuki Cup favourites, but make no bones about it, it will be an uphill task and one of the Cup's biggest-ever upsets if Sovannara's team can secure a win.


Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

ESPN's Sports Centre programme talked about the AFF Suzuki Cup Group A countries tonight as they looked ahead to Friday's opening matches of the championships. The ESPN expert - I've forgotten his name - described Cambodia as making up the numbers in the group, though he did say to look out for Chan Rithy on the left and Sam El Nasa on the right. He said Singapore had suffered too many withdrawals from their side and will be missing a spark so could no longer be called favourites for the Cup, despite winning the last two championships. With Indonesia on home soil, they will be expected to go through as one of the top two teams, but he also felt that Myanmar would be a dark horse and with some good recent results behind them, must be considered a serious threat.
The Cambodia v Singapore game will be screened live at 6pm on Star Sports on Friday.

December 3, 2008 9:30 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

The Jakarta Casual wrote this for ESPN:
AFF Cup Preview
Tuesday 2nd December 2008

There are just a couple of days to go till the AFF Cup kick off in Jakarta and, thankfully, no one has mentioned anything about an opening ceremony.

And quite rightly so.

This is a football tournament and we should focus on the players kicking a ball around, not get sidetracked by people walking round the pitch dressed in national costumes and waving a flag around.

Likewise, as far as I'm aware, fans aren't paying big money to go ‘ooh' and ‘aah' at some expensively designed fireworks display.

If I want to see people walking around in approved national dress I can watch the Discovery Channel. If it's fireworks I can watch the opening ceremony from the Beijing Olympics on You Tube.

I want neither. I want football.

This is the seventh edition of the ASEAN Football Federation Cup and there have only been two winners since the tournament's inception. Singapore and Thailand have both won the trophy three times with Singapore having won the last two editions and indeed being unbeaten since 2002.

The Lions will take to Jakarta a wealth of experience with the bulk of the squad having played in the last two successful tournaments. They are not without controversy however, with one third of their squad being ‘naturalized' Singaporeans, i.e. foreigners.

It's perfectly legal in the eyes of FIFA and it's a path open to other countries, especially Indonesia, if they choose to take it. But from what I can gather in Indonesia while a player can become an Indonesian citizen after five years here there would be a lot of resistance from the locally born players at seeing their places usurped by some ‘Johnny come lately'.

Southeast Asians are known for being goal shy on the international stage but in this tournament they at least have Cambodia and Laos joining in to guarantee a shot at boosting their goal difference.

In the last campaign, Laos lost 11-0 to Singapore, a game striker Noh Alam Shah remembers fondly for his seven goals that momentarily had the world's football media at his feet.

Likewise, Cambodia shipped 14 goals during Indonesia's Merdeka Cup last August.

As one of the co-hosts, Thailand have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons. But while the group games may have been shifted from Bangkok to Phuket, you can't help but marvel at the Thais marketing savvy. It's almost as if they're saying ‘ok, Bangkok airport may be closed but there's more to Thailand than Bangkok. Look at our beaches...'

Football of course is about the players and there should be a few who come out of their games with reputations polished.

Myanmar may be cold-shouldered on the world stage but locally she's the belle of the ball as the national side keeps getting invited to regional competitions, most recently the Indonesian and Malaysian Merdeka Cups. One player who has stood out for them is striker Soe Myat Min.

As well as promoting the southern beaches Thailand will be looking for big things from young striker Teeratep Winothai. The 23-year-old is moving to Belgian side Lierse in the New Year and he will be keen to give Thai fans some fond memories.

Let's hope all the headlines revolve around the players and what happens on the pitch. Fans still remember the Thais walking off the pitch during the final in Singapore last time round and indeed Indonesia's coach Benny Dollo is not averse to calling his players off if he takes offence at something on the pitch.

Someone will win this cup for sure. But someone will also lose and it is to be hoped the losers accept their defeat gracefully and with dignity. Then we can look back on a wonderful tournament.

December 3, 2008 10:54 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Preview of AFF Suzuki Cup Group A
by Antony Suton [for the Singapore FA website]

Singapore fly into Jakarta in the next couple of days knowing that if they are to secure a record fourth AFF Cup title they are going to have to fight their way through the proverbial group of death. It seems every international competition these days must have a group deemed to be so tough it is worthy of such a title but for Singapore there maybe some truth in it.

Their group sees them up against hosts Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia. Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta with 80,000 fans can be an intimidating place but the Lions have been there, done that. Myanmar are the great unknowns. Can they turn it on for once at the top level or are they doomed forever to be the also rans?

Raddy’s army go into the competition having drawn their last three games, against ASEAN competition, and without the technically gifted Khairul Amri who was hit by the curse of the metatarsal right at the death of the Singapore season. They also lost the services of Qiu Li who was ruled illegible by FIFA. Fazrul Nawaz and Hariss Harun also miss out through injury.

What’s left is a squad strong on experience and indeed strong on strength. Players like Daniel Bennett and Aleksander Duric bring a physical presence that the other ASEAN sides will lack.

With most of the squad involved in the last two tournaments and Singapore unbeaten since 2002 hopes are high the Lions will at least qualify through to the semi final stage.

Their first hurdle will be a Cambodian side who reached the group stage after having won through the qualifying round held in Phnom Penh in October. But edging past the likes of Brunei and Laos in front of their own fans is one thing.

Cambodia visited Jakarta last August when they competed in the Merdeka Cup and were roundly thumped, losing 7-0 to the hosts Indonesia and 7-1 to Myanmar.

They have appeared in just four of the six tournaments and with just two wins and 13 goals in their 16 games it’s difficult to see them being nothing but whipping boys again. In such a tight group it could come down to goal difference and Noh Alam Shah will have fond memories of the seven he put past Laos in the last games.

What to make of Myanmar? They won the recent Grand Royal Challenge Cup which they hosted in Yangon and indeed at times looked a more than useful side. Coached by Brazilia Marcos Antonio Falopa they were disciplined at the back and in Soe Myat Min they have a potential star of South East Asian football.

But can they perform away from home? In the Merdeka Cup in Jakarta they lost 4-0 to Indonesia and in October they lost by a similar margin to Malaysia in KL.

Despite Soe Myat’s ability they have struggled to score goals, 19 in 14 games this year. The Myanmar side could well be the key to this group. Good results against Singapore and Indonesia would see everything wide open with the final games, Singapore v Indonesia and Myanmar v Cambodia, taking on cup final importance.

Then we have the hosts themselves, Indonesia. Despite that fanatical support Indonesia go into the competition with one win in their last five games and coach Benny Dollo expressing doubts about his player’s stamina.

Goals are also an issue with just four in their last five and one of them an own goal. Still, in Myanmar they played without Budi Sudarsono, arguably their most talented player, so hopes he will be high he can gel with Bambang Pamungkas.

The pressure is intense on the shoulders of Dollo, perhaps unreasonably so given that the Indonesians have never won this trophy, and his every selection and formation is being minutely analysed by a media and public desperate for success on the field.

Neither Singapore nor Indonesia have had decent results in the run up to this competition but both Raddy and Dollo will argue the performances were the raison d’etre. With the real thing starting this Friday it’s the results that count.

Can Singapore continue their impressive unbeaten run in this competition? Will Indonesia’s support galvanise the home side? Is Falopa able to inspire Myanmar to the next round? And can Cambodia cause a shock or two?

December 3, 2008 10:55 PM  
Blogger TrooperBari said...

"It's interesting that Singapore operate a Foreign Sports Talent scheme where foreign-born players can get citizenship after 2 or 3 years of playing football in the S-League and are then eligible for the national team."

Small point of order, Andy: Even if said players got citizenship in 2-3 years, they wouldn't be eligible to represent S'pore until they'd lived in the country for 5 years. New FIFA regulations and all that....

December 4, 2008 10:24 PM  

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