Football: Suzuki Cup postponement will give Lions more time to prepare, says coach Yoshida

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

SINGAPORE - 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 the South-east Asia, and safety of all stakeholders being the top priority, the move was discussed at a virtual AFF task force committee meetings on Monday (July 27) and Thursday.

AFF president Major General Khiev Sameth from Cambodia said in a statement on Thursday: "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 skipper Hariss Harun said he understood the decision was made with the bigger picture in mind.

The 29-year-old 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 after 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 postponed tournament in 2021, The Straits Times 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.

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: "While we are disappointed that we are unable to hold the tournament this year, we 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 (July 26), 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 24 with fans in attendance.

World Cup qualifiers for the Asian confederation scheduled for March and June were also postponed, while many other high-profile sporting events in Asia have been 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

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