Vietnam remain AFF Suzuki Cup favourites but rivals set sights on challenging

As defending champions, Vietnam will head into AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 as favourites but will face tricky tests against Malaysia and Indonesia in Group B. Stanley Chou/Getty Images

The much-awaited AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 is set to take place from Dec. 5, 2021 to Jan. 1, 2022 with Tuesday's group stage draw bringing Southeast Asia's biggest football tournament one step closer.

The competition was postponed twice from its original schedule last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but players, coaches and fans can now count down the days to the tournament with the knowledge of who they will face in their group.

Group B of the championship promises to be a gripping affair with defending champions Vietnam drawn alongside Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos. And Park Hang-seo, head coach of the Golden Star Warriors, is someone who believes there are no easy fixtures in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

"I think every team that Vietnam will face in the group will be tough opponents. We will have to bring our best into every match. Our first objective will be to advance from the group stage," said the South Korean tactician who has guided Vietnam to the final round of 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers.

His Malaysian counterpart Tan Cheng Hoe is also not taking anyone lightly. "Vietnam look to be the favourites from Group B, but we cannot just focus on them. Indonesia are our traditional rivals while Cambodia also have some talented players," the Harimau Malaya boss reacted to the draw.

Indonesia, meanwhile, are looking to bounce back from a horrendous World Cup qualification campaign which ended in a second-round exit without a single win.

"Being drawn with Vietnam and Malaysia is very interesting. They are strong teams, but we will fight hard to win every game," said their coach Shin Tae-yong.

Group A is headlined by five-time winners Thailand and will also feature Myanmar, Singapore and Philippines along with the winner of the qualification play-off between Timor-Leste and Brunei Darussalam.

The regional championship could prove to be the first major outing for a new Thailand head coach after the War Elephants sacked Japanese coach Akira Nishino in July for failing to achieve a second successive final round appearance in the World Cup qualifiers.

"With ASEAN sides progressing rapidly, we cannot underestimate anyone. Thailand will definitely give more than their 100 per cent to claim a sixth AFF Cup title this year," said Nualphan Lamsam, the manager of Thailand national team who could play a part in selecting the new coach.

Tatsuma Yoshida will also be experiencing his first tournament since taking charge of the Singapore Lions. "There are no good or bad teams in the tournament. We should be ambitious, give our best and always aim to be a challenger for the trophy, but we should also take each match as it comes and target to progress out of the group first," he said.