MANILA, Philippines – The road back to the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup will have to go through regional powerhouse Thailand, arch-nemesis Vietnam and the winner of the Qualifying Stage.
Owing to their semifinals finish in the last Suzuki Cup, the Azkals, this time, were seeded in the Group Stage and were drawn third in Group A.
Comprising the other Group will be defending champion Malaysia, runner-up Indonesia, Singapore and the runner-up in the Qualifying Stage.
“We’re not coming in as a surprise team anymore. We’re coming in as one of the favourites,” Azkals team manager Dan Palami said in the livestreaming of the draw in the Azkals Sports Bar in The Fort Strip today.
In 2010, the Azkals finished second to Laos in the Qualifying Stage, beating Timor Leste and drawing with Cambodia and the group winner.
The Azkals went on to shock Vietnam in a 2-nil victory put the Philippines in the world football map even hogging the headline of the FIFA website. Their rapid rise was cut short when they lost to Indonesia in the semifinals after giving away the hosting rights to a “home” match due to lack of world-class football facilities.
Now, Vietnam will have another crack at the Azkals in the Group Stage, where the top two teams in each group will advance in the crossover home-and-away leg in the semis. But the biggest obstacle in their group would be Thailand, which appeared in five of the last eight Suzuki Cup Finals and won three times in the process.
The Azkals will play in Thailand, which will co-host the Group Stage with defending champion Malaysia, on Nov. 24-Dec. 1 this year to be shown live on AKTV on IBC.