In the official 2014 Suzuki Cup draw made in Hanoi on Tuesday, co-hosts and 2008 champions Vietnam will take on the Philippines, who have reached the semis of the last two editions, 2010 finalists Indonesia and the qualifying round runners-up.
Over at Group B, in what looks to be a juicy Group of Death, four-time Suzuki Cup winners and current titleholders Singapore have been drawn against arch-rivals and 2010 champions Malaysia and always-tough Thailand (as well as the second qualifying round runners-up).
Let’s take a look first at Group A and co-hosts, Vietnam.
You can be sure that they are looking to exact revenge. When they were hosts in 2010 and favorites to repeat as Southeast Asian champions, Philippines waylaid them, 2-0. Although they defeated Singapore, 1-0, to advance to the semifinals, where eventual champions, Malaysia, put them to the sword.
In the 2012 edition, they never even got out of the group stages as they finished with a 0-1-2 record.
The pressure on their team will be huge as they are once more back on home soil.
They are currently ranked No. 2 in Southeast Asia by FIFA at No. 129 (down by six notches while the Philippines went up by one to No. 128).
While I find it dubious that Vietnam is ranked that high since they haven’t done well in the last two Asean Football Championships (that’s the Suzuki Cup for you), as well as in the Asian Cup where in the qualifiers they finished with a 2-2-8 record, they will nevertheless be up for this tournament. More so in their final Group A match, they will be playing the Philippines at My Dinh National Stadium, the site of what was a national horror for them and the rebirth of their foes.
Save for their 22-year old Nguyen Thanh Binh, who has seven caps to his name, Vietnam squad is now in its prime.
Running a 4-3-3 formation, on defense they will have three long-time defenders in Nguyen Van Bien, Tran Dinh Dong and Le Phouc Tu who missed the last Suzuki Cup due to injury. Au Van Hoan was a new call up in the last Suzuki Cup but he now has the experience to play as he’s racked up more caps. It will be these four players more than anyone on the pitch when they take on the Philippines who will be under pressure because in their last two meetings, the Azkals have taken 2-nil and 1-nil victories.
In the midfield, they could possibly field a line of three-time Suzuki Cup veterans who include, Le Tan Tai, their team captain, and Nguyen Trong Hoan and Pham Thanh Luong.
In the forward line where they like to pressure opponents, they have the three-headed strike force of Nguyen Anh Durc, Le Cong Vinh and Nguyen Hai Anh. Between the three of them, they have 41 international goals.
They also have capable support from their secondary of Trong Hoan (11 goals) and Thanh Luong (five goals).
Regarding their new Japanese head coach Toshi Miura, I am surprised that Vietnam brought him in. Miura didn’t play football but learned to coach the game by studying in Germany. Furthermore, he never had a winning season in Japan’s J-League Division 1 and 2!
In his first friendly match against Myanmar that resulted in 6-0 rout against Raddy Avramovic’s new side, Miura was criticized before the match for not bothering to watch any tape of their opponents. Miura explained that he was more interested in seeing how his players played naturally in the game before doing some actual coaching.
Not the best way to start your new job at all.
Miura began his “coaching” career as a Physical Education teacher in Japan before he seriously dove into football. But even now, the Japanese coach’s reputation is being an energetic and passionate trainer. I’d like to believe that what Vietnam needs is a coach who not only trains them enthusiastically but is also a tactical genius.
Even as Vietnam picked up Miura, who promised more friendlies against tougher opponents in preparation for the Suzuki Cup, I am surprised they went with him at all.
If you look at the Southeast Asian football coaching landscape, countries have usually picked up very good and accomplished coaches.
In the last Suzuki Cup, Thailand tapped accomplished German coach Winfried Schafer who led them to the Finals. Malaysia had K Rajagopal who led them to a U-23 and the 2010 Suzuki Cup title, while Singapore had Avramovic. At one point, Thailand also had former Englishmen Peter Reid and Bryan Robson.
This 2014 Suzuki Cup will be a true test for the Tuyen.