With erstwhile minnows refusing to be overawed by powerhouse reputations, the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup could mark a new chapter in regional football.
On a high: Filipino players celebrate their 2-0 win over Viet Nam in Group B in the ASEAN Football Championship in Ha Noi. — VNA/VNS Photo Quang Thang
HCM CITY —
The Philippines, comfortably wearing its underdog tag, is on the brink of making history while Singapore and Viet Nam, which are frequent semi-finalists at previous editions of the tournament, is on danger.
Six years ago, at the Tiger Cup 2004 (as the tournament was known then), Myanmar successfully entered the semifinals after surprisingly topping the group that included Thailand and Malaysia.
The Philippines now stands a good chance of repeating Myanmar's feat with at least a draw against the latter in the last round of the Group B match today.
In the meantime, Viet Nam, and Singapore, considered favourites for semi-final berths in the Group B, are on the brink of elimination. Malaysia qualified for semi-finals after beating Laos in the last match while the pre-tournament favourites Thailand, who lost 2-1 to Indonesia yesterday, was unexpectedly ousted from the tournament without a win.
"The loss against the Philippines is regretful for Viet Nam but the Philippines considered themselves the underdogs and chose a defensive approach and waited for chances. And they were successful," said Tran Cong Minh, former national defender.
"The match between Viet Nam and Singapore [today] promises to be a very exciting match and both teams have an equal chance."
Indonesia and the Philippines are riding high on different styles of play, but both teams have players who can change the fortunes match.
Indonesia destroyed their opponents with dazzling attacks, using the service of Uruguayan-Indonesian Christian Gonzales.
Gonzales, top goal scorer at the Indonesian Super League for five consecutive years, is the talisman in his team's three impressive victories in the Group A. His class goal helped put Indonesia ahead in the opening match against Malaysia and gave his team the confidence to go on and complete a 5-1 win.
He was also the key player for Indonesia in the matches against Laos and Thailand. Gonzales showed his value at the right time, earning his team penalties, which helped settle his team.
Indonesian Austrian coach Alfred Riedl admitted that Gonzales' goals are turning points in wins over Laos and Thailand.
The Philippines has not been as impressive as Indonesia in their wins, but the four points they've got from two matches against title contenders Singapore and Viet Nam is far above their own expectations.
Their new players are making a difference. Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, trained in England, played his best game in the tournament so far on Sunday in the shock 2-0 win over defending champions Viet Nam.
While Etheridge was reliable in the goal, Philip Younghusband and Christopher Greatwich look sharpness up front.
"Besides having some good players, Indonesia have the advantage of playing at home," Minh said. — VNS