Thailand facing "difficult challenge", says Robson

Thailand coach Bryan Robson believes the three-time winners are “one of the favourites” to win the AFF Suzuki Cup in December.

Thailand, who last won the title in 2002, have been drawn in the more difficult Group A and will play co-hosts Indonesia, Malaysia and the winners of the qualifying competition involving Laos, Cambodia, Timor Leste and the Philippines.

The draw on Wednesday pitted holders Vietnam against Singapore, like Thailand three-time Asean champions, Myanmar and the runners-up in qualifying in Group B.

The crunch game in Group A will be played on December 7 when Indonesia take on Thailand in the intimidating atmosphere of the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.

“I think whichever way it was going to go you are going to get at least one tough team, especially as they have home advantage. Indonesia or Vietnam was obviously going to be in the group and provide us with a difficult game,” said Robson, the former England captain.

“We have drawn Indonesia and I have already heard that there is likely to be 100,000 there and that will be a difficult challenge for the boys.”

Malaysia won the SEA Games title last December and Robson believes that their opponents may stick with the young guns for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

“We have also drawn Malaysia and it depends on their policy (in choosing players) and what they are aiming for. We know that everybody likes to win a competition if you are in, but there again sometimes teams do plan ahead and they are thinking of developing players for the future. I think Malaysia are a little bit like that,” he added.

“For me when you are in a competition like this you have to beat the best teams at some stage. Some times you can be really lucky and find that some of the teams are not as good as people thought they would be.

“I would say that we will be one of the favourites in the competition.”

Wolfgang Pikal, the assistant coach of Indonesia, said that the competition looked very open.

“On paper, Group B is a little easier which makes our position in Group A a lot harder,” he said. “We have new players in the team, so we are working hard to do better in front of our home fans. All teams are basically at the same level which means that the games will be quite close.”

K. Rajagopal, who took over the reins of the national team after steering Malaysia to victoy in the SEA Games, said that he did not fear any team in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

“We respect all teams but as is common knowledge, things are not easy in football where there are a lot of factors which we have to take into account. We are taking each game as it comes and we fear no one,” he said.

Henrique Calisto, coach of defending champions Vietnam, cautioned against the football-crazy nation getting ahead of itself.

“We have to respect ourselves, respect our opponents and realise that no team is easy. Just look at what happened to Italy (at the World Cup). They were champions four years ago in Germany but in South Africa, they cannot even win one game,” said Calisto.

“We are the champions and we can do it again but we have to look at it one game at a time. We have to think of our first match against Myanmar first rather than thinking whether we can beat Singapore in the third game. If we lose the first two matches, what is the point in beating Singapore?

“It is far more important for me to have quality matches rather than stars in the game. We have to have discipline, work hard and (employ good) tactics.”

Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic, who guided The Lions to back-to-back Asean crowns in 2004 and 2007, said that his target was reaching the final.

“The group we are in is slightly easier than the other group, where there will be three title contenders in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia,” he said.

“Overall I am happy with the draw. It is a good draw for us. There are three stages in the tournament and we need to clear the first two stages to reach our target of the final.”

Myanmar coach Myint Aung said their aim was to be competitive.

“The draw is fair and we will prepare our team as well as we can to make sure that we are competitive in all of our matches. Vietnam is very strong and as hosts, they will have the advantage,” he said.

“For us, we can only get our players together at the start of November after the Myanmar National League.”


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