Cup delay will help Lions prepare better

Singapore's Irfan Fandi and his teammates will be aiming to end a poor run at the Suzuki Cup - the Lions have not made it past the group stage into the two-legged semi-finals in the three editions since they last won the tournament in 2012 - when the
Singapore's Irfan Fandi and his teammates will be aiming to end a poor run at the Suzuki Cup - the Lions have not made it past the group stage into the two-legged semi-finals in the three editions since they last won the tournament in 2012 - when they compete in next year's tournament.ST FILE PHOTO

S'pore coach relishes extra time to work as Asean event moved to next year due to virus

This year's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, originally scheduled for Nov 23 to Dec 31, has been postponed to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With Covid-19 still spreading across South-east Asia, and safety of all stakeholders being the top priority, the move was discussed at virtual AFF task force committee meetings on Monday and yesterday.

AFF president Major-General Khiev Sameth of Cambodia said in a statement yesterday: "Since the onset of Covid-19, the AFF has been closely monitoring guidance from the World Health Organisation, health ministries, government agencies, Fifa and AFC.

"With the risk of the spread of Covid-19 remaining high, the AFF finds itself in a situation where we cannot proceed safely with the AFF Suzuki Cup 2020."

Singapore captain Hariss Harun, 29, told The Straits Times he understood the decision was made with the bigger picture in mind.

The midfielder added: "While the Suzuki Cup is a tournament we look forward to, health and safety must come first and in such uncertain times, I trust the authorities to make a decision based on that."

Singapore are the second most successful team in the competition's history with four titles, one behind Thailand.

However, the Lions have not made it past the group stage into the two-legged semi-finals in the three editions since they last won the tournament in 2012.

National head coach Tatsuma Yoshida said: "We fully understand and support that this decision was made in the best interests of the Asean football community.

"This is a time for us to put our on-pitch rivalries on hold and work together to overcome the common adversary in Covid-19.

"Alongside the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, the AFF Suzuki Cup was among our top priorities this year given its significance as the top football tournament in South-east Asia.

"However with this postponement, it will allow us more time to prepare for the competition and we are looking forward to putting on a good showing for our fans when the tournament commences in 2021."

For the delayed tournament, ST understands that the AFF prefers to retain its current format where teams play home and away games from the group stage to the final as this attracts more fans to stadiums.

SILVER LINING

This postponement will allow us more time to prepare... We look forward to putting on a good showing for our fans in 2021.

TATSUMA YOSHIDA, Lions head coach plans to use the extra time wisely.

 

But it is also considering a return to an older format with just one host country to allow for easier logistics amid travel restrictions and quarantine orders.

Adrian Staiti, Asia-Pacific president at Sportfive, the Suzuki Cup's exclusive commercial partner, said it "will work closely with the AFF to monitor the situation and look forward to working with our partners to deliver a great tournament for the fans of Asean next year".

Last Sunday, defending Suzuki Cup champions Vietnam suspended its domestic football leagues following news of the first locally transmitted cases of coronavirus in more than three months.

Vietnam was the first in the region to resume top-level competitive football when the Vietnamese National Cup kicked off on May 23 with fans in attendance.

World Cup qualifiers for the Asian confederation scheduled for March and June had also been postponed, while many other high-profile sporting events in Asia were axed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

These include Formula One races in China, Vietnam, Japan and Singapore, the Asean Basketball League played across countries like Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines and a host of international golf, tennis and badminton tournaments in the region.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2020, with the headline 'Cup delay will help Lions prepare better'. Print Edition | Subscribe