21 October 2010

AFF Suzuki Cup ready for blast off

Hosts Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines and Timor Leste will battle it out for two spots in the AFF Suzuki Cup at the round-robin qualifying tournament, which kicks off on Friday (October 22).

The Philippines take on Timor Leste in the opening game at the National Sports Complex in Vientiane followed by what promises to be a cracker between Laos and Cambodia, the two qualifiers in 2008.

Cambodia only squeezed into the finals two years ago as they scored more goals in their four matches than the Philippines after both teams finished equal on seven points.

The Philippines will be hoping that they have enough firepower this time around to prevent a repeat of their anguish in 2008.

They were given a boost ahead of the qualifiers with a 5-0 win over Macau in a warm-up match with striker Ian Araneta scoring a hat-trick.

The win came after a 4-2 loss against Hong Kong and a 1-1 draw with Chinese Taipei in the four-team Long Teng Cup staged in Kaohsiung. Hong Kong won the tournament with the Philippines coming in third on four points.

The Philippines go into the qualifiers with experience in key positions. Defender Anton del Rosario, midfielders James Younghusband and Emilio Caligdong and Aly Borromeo all played in the 2007 AFF Suzuki Cup when the Philippines recorded a surprise 0-0 draw with Myanmar in a group match.

They have also been encouraged by the arrival of first choice goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who has been released by English Premiership side Fulham where he is currently back-up to Australian Mark Schwarzer.

Cambodia go into the qualifying tournament on the back of two draws with club sides that had coach Lee Tae-hoon lamenting the lack of team work.

"Most of you played like individuals, and in a team game like football it doesn't help if you are on your own," he told the squad after the 0-0 draw with Preah Khan Reach.

Lee was happier with the 1-1 against Police Commissary that was abandoned after an hour because of heavy rain.

"I feel the side will perform well in Laos. This result really doesn't matter," he said after watching striker Khuonla Boravy score the equaliser.

Laos will try and make home advantage pay as they bid to reach the finals for the second straight time with the under-23s run to the semi-finals of last year's SEA Games in Vientiane providing inspiration.

The Laotians topped the qualifying table with nine points in 2008 after three wins and a loss to Cambodia and produced some attractive football against Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia in the finals before tiring and leaking goals in the last 30 minutes of their matches.

Timor Leste caused a shock by holding Cambodia to a 2-2 draw during the 2008 qualifiers but still finished bottom of the table after losses to Laos (2-1), the Philippines (1-0) and Brunei (4-1).

Their performances will be watched closely to see if they have closed the gap even further in the ensuing two years.

The winners of the qualifying tournament will play co-hosts Indonesia, three-time champions Thailand and Malaysia in Group A of the AFF Suzuki Cup from December 1-8.

The runners-up will meet co-hosts Vietnam, Singapore and Myanmar in Group B.


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