Football: Lions drawn into AFF Suzuki Cup Group of Death

The Lions are in Group B with two-time defending champions Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and the winners of the Brunei-Timor Leste qualifiers.
The Lions are in Group B with two-time defending champions Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and the winners of the Brunei-Timor Leste qualifiers.PHOTO: AFF SUZUKI CUP

SINGAPORE - Singapore's national football team will be out to prove doubters wrong after being drawn into the Group of Death for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup from Nov 8 to Dec 15.

The Lions are in Group B with two-time defending champions Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and the winners of the Brunei v Timor-Leste qualifiers on Sept 3 and 11. Group A comprises Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

The seedings used for the draw are based on the teams' performances at the last two editions of the Suzuki Cup.

In a sign of the times, four-time champions Singapore, now world No. 172, were pulled out of Pot 4, which also consists of Cambodia.

"There are no easy opponents... and we are aware of the uphill task that lies ahead," Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Lim Kia Tong said after the draw at the Hotel Mulia Senayan in Jakarta, Indonesia on Wednesday (May 2).

"The FAS will do (all we can)... and support the national team in preparations for the tournament."

The Lions will open their campaign at the National Stadium against Indonesia on Nov 9, before taking on the Philippines away on Nov 13. They will then face either Brunei or Timor-Leste in their next home game on Nov 21 before completing the group stage away in Thailand on Nov 25.

The draw is similar to the 2016 edition in the Philippines when Singapore crashed out of the group stage after drawing with the hosts (0-0) and two losses to Thailand (0-1) and Indonesia (1-2).

In 2014, they were also knocked out of the group stage.

Lions skipper and Johor Darul Takzim midfielder Hariss Harun told The Straits Times: "It is a tough draw, but this is our job and we will have something to prove. We competed against the same teams two years ago and we matched them only to blow it right at the end. We have to be positive and get ourselves ready to make a difference."

National goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who plays for Thai League 2 club Army United, added: "It is good we have more players abroad now, so we have to apply what we have learnt overseas.

"Hopefully, those of us in Thailand (Izwan Mahbud, Gabriel Quak, Zulfahmi Arifin and Baihakki Khaizan) can also take home some information about their players.

"But first we need to sort out the next national coach. A new coach will have new ideas, which need to be communicated to the players, so the earlier the better."

Still without a national coach after the FAS parted ways with V. Sundram Moorthy last month, the Lions were represented at Wednesday's draw by Lim, acting general secretary Yazeen Buhari and deputy director for commercial and business development Rikram Jit Singh.

Former Thailand and Laos coach Steve Darby felt that Singapore need to get their national coach appointment spot on to stand a chance of progressing from the Group of Death. Thailand and the Philippines are two of three Asean teams - alongside Vietnam - who have qualified for next year's Asian Cup Finals while Indonesia have finished runners-up a record five times at the Suzuki Cup.

The Englishman said: "You would expect 2016 finalists Thailand and Indonesia to be fighting it out for the top two. Singapore have to pick up maximum points from their home games to have any hope but one can realistically see them finishing fourth in the group.

"Having no national coach now is an issue. It is important that the FAS chooses the right character, someone who genuinely cares about the job."

In a bid to improve attendance figures, the AFF has a new format for this year's Suzuki Cup.

The 10 countries are divided into two groups, and each team will play two home and two away games in a round-robin format. The top two teams advance to the final four, with the semi-finals (Dec 1 and 5, or Dec 2 and 6) and final (Dec 11 and 15) retaining the current two-legged, home-and-away format.