Philippine Azkals coach Scott Cooper believes the team was put in an intriguing situation after being drawn in Group A of the pandemic-delayed AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 slated Dec. 5 until New Year’s Day 2022.
Cooper offered a mixed opinion of the Azkals’ grouping where they’ll face perennial contender Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar and the winner of the qualification round match between Brunei and Timor-Leste.
“I think as far as the draw goes, it’s an interesting one I never want to say I’m pleased with the draw but I’m not disappointed with the draw,” Cooper said after the draw held Tuesday, Sept. 21.
“I think we take it how it is and ironically the last time we played in the Suzuki Cup, we had Singapore, Timor-Leste, who could be there, and Thailand with the only difference is Indonesia, which is in the other group. It’s almost like a replay of 2018. It’s an interesting one,” added Cooper, referring to the 2018 edition when the Azkals made it to the semifinals.
There’s no question that Thailand will come in as favorites to win the group, given its ability to compete in past editions of Southeast Asia’s biggest football competition.
The War Elephants won in 2014 and 2016 but their reign came to an end in 2018 when they fell to Malaysia in a two-legged semifinal affair.
Singapore has always been considered as a tough team to face even if it has yet to reach the semis since winning the Suzuki Cup in 2012 while Myanmar has shown some progress highlighted by a semis showing in 2016.
Cooper is also wary of Timor-Leste, which the Azkals faced in 2018 with a 3-2 victory in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“You have to look at Thailand as the strongest team in the group and Singapore are always well organized and Myanmar always has talent, and you have both Brunei and Timor-Leste — two teams that will fight,” Cooper said.
“We learned that against Timor-Leste in the last Suzuki Cup they were really well coached, they pressed us and we narrowly escaped that game with a 3-2 win. I don’t think you can treat any team lightly.
“For sure Thailand will be the top team in the group, you can expect that from them. It’s interesting for me because I know Thailand so well and the players too,” Cooper concluded.
The Suzuki Cup, postponed last year due to COVID-19, will be held under a centralized venue with the group stage to run until Dec. 19. The top two teams in both groups advance to a crossover two-leg semis from Dec. 22 to 26, with the final also being two legs set Dec. 29 to Jan. 1.