The Dream Match and a Re-match

By: Jesse James Baban - twitter: @agentjcstrike

Tue. Jul. 31, 2012

MANILA, Philippines – I remembered two weeks ago, when I asked my UFL partner on the results of the AFF Suzuki Cup draw, she told me that we ended up in another batch of so-called “Group of Death” with two defending champions will be on the stumbling block to the Azkals bid for another semi-finals return in the prestigious tournament in the region.

Three time champions Thailand, 2008 title holder Vietnam and the winner of the qualifiers were pooled with the Philippine team in Group A, while defending champions Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the qualifying round runner up wound up in Group B. Qualifying hosts Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Timor Leste and the returning Brunei National Team will try to book a place in the Group Stage on October 5 to 13.

The group draw of the Azkals in this year’s edition of the Suzuki Cup could mean a lot of things, not just to our own national squad, but also to their opponents as well.

Thailand, always considered as the regional football power in this side of Asia, failed to reach the Final Four in the previous edition. This year could lead to a much brighter side for them as they are one-half of the host for the Group Stages with the home crowd on their side.

The War Elephants were one of the two National Teams left in the ASEAN region (the other one is Brunei) that we did not face in the two year span which dates back to the 2010 Suzuki Cup Qualifiers.  The last time that we faced the Thais was five years ago in the 2007 edition after dismantling our National side 4-nil on their home turf, as we ended up on the cellar with Myanmar and Malaysia on the same group.  

Facing the regional titan at the start of the Group Stages will be the true acid test for our Azkals for three reasons. First, is the fact that they are an established football nation (with a number of accomplishments regionally). Second, is how much changed five years after the last meeting of both squads had?  And lastly, the hanging question: if our National Team would duplicate its 2010 win over a hostile crowd.

For the situation against Vietnam, it would be a different case. Over the last two years, the historic 2-nil victory was mentioned hundreds of times in sports headlines and articles, not just in the local news, but also internationally.  

It is obvious that for the Viets, redemption is the best word that would describe with their next faceoff with the National Team. A friendly match was once proposed, but it did not happen. Still, the best venue for the match to take place would be the tournament that started it all. Now, they won’t have to wait long to get back against the Azkals.

The humbling defeat against our National side two years ago at their own turf sparked up their desire on proving to everyone that the loss was a fluke and they are still the team to beat.

For the Azkals’, it is now the time for them to prove that the Cinderella story two years ago is now just a part of history. That from this moment on, this squad is now for real, a contender in the region.  This is the best time to attest it.

We always dream big for our national squad. But we have always to remember that a realistic goal is always better for our team and that is to be one of the best in the region.  

Placing third in the Challenge Cup early this year is way beyond from every fans and follower’s expectations. But having a decent finish in the Suzuki Cup would cement everything we had accomplished in a short span of time and it will be the foundation for the upcoming batch of national teams for the years to come.

The draw could be a blessing or a blow for us, depending on the perception of the one looking at it. Preparation is under way, and we will know the answers in four months time. JJB

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