MANILA, Philippines - If the Philippines is wary of Vietnam and host Thailand in the group stages of the coming AFF Suzuki Cup, the Vietnamese and the Thais are equally on guard against the Azkals.
"Philippines has called up many foreign-born players recently. Their national team has turned into a completely different one. Therefore, we must be careful," Vietnam coach Phan Thanh Hung said as quoted by football website GOAL.Com.
The Azkals shed off their doormat image in biennial meet's previous staging in 2010, pulling off a giant 2-0 upset over the then reigning holders Vietnam in the group stages en route to a breakthrough semis appearance.
Much of the leap in the Pinoys competitive level has been attributed to the heads up plays of the Phl pros based in Europe.
"In coming time, we are going to keep close watch on their moves such as which players are called up, where they are from and their strength and weakness," Phan added.
The Azkals, 2008 winners Vietnamese and three-time ASEAN titlists Thais are bunched together in Group A of the Nov. 24-Dec. 1 meet, along with the winner of the Qualifying Round.
To prepare for the Suzuki Cup, Phan said Vietnam has set two friendlies against Indonesia in September and a pocket tournament with Turkmenistan, DPR Korea, and Iran’s Olympic team in October.
Thailand's coach Winfried Schaefer is also cautious against both the Azkals and the Vietnamese side, saying their groupmates are "very strong and there are no clear favorites."
"I have seen both Vietnam and the Philippines play and they are very strong," the German mentor said in a report on Bangkok Post.
"We have to train really hard and prepare well for the tournament so we can put a good team on the field," he added.
The Thais, who last won the title in 2002, may have to cram up their preparations as according to the Asean Football Federation (AFF) website, the Thai Premier League will only finish some 25 days before the Suzuki Cup.
"The national camp starts on Nov. 5 and we have arranged for two matches then. Prior to the camp, we need to play more matches. If we do not have enough quality matches, it will be a catastrophe for the team," Schaefer told the AFF.
Reports have it that Thailand is eyeing to play Iraq in a friendly at home on Sept. 1.
The Azkals themselves have lined up extensive build-up in the next five months, including training camp in the US, a series of friendlies, and participation in the Nehru Cup in India.