HONG KONG • Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac has every reason to believe in his team's ability.
The Thais go into the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup that starts today in search of a third straight title. But, with several key players missing, his team are in danger of losing their status as South-east Asia's No. 1 football nation.
Midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin has impressed during his first full J-League season with Consadole Sapporo but neither he nor fellow Japan-based duo Theerathon Bunmathan and Teerasil Dangda will play a part in the tournament.
With Belgium-based goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan also absent, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia will fancy their chances of winning the AFF's biennial 10-team tournament.
"I picked the best 23 players who I believe can deliver the best results," an unfazed Rajevac told Thai media. "It's not an easy decision to make as I'm happy with how all players have done so far. I personally believe in every department of my team. It's very important to have all areas covered by quality players.
"I have faith in the ability of my players but, to win, we will have to have good teamwork."
Thailand have been drawn in Group B. They begin their title defence tomorrow against Timor-Leste in Bangkok before playing Indonesia next week. The Philippines and Singapore complete the group.
Indonesia will look to build on their run to the 2016 final, as well as their recent run at the Asian Under-19 Championship where they lost to Japan in the quarter-finals.
The Philippines play their first competitive matches under former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson in this tournament, which will also fine-tune their preparations for their debut appearance at the Asian Cup Finals in the United Arab Emirates in January.
In Group A, Vietnam will be favourites to advance to the last four as they continue to show improvement at international level.
South Korean coach Park Hang-seo is attempting to build on his team's run to the final of the Asian U-23 Championship in China this year and their semi-final appearance at the Asian Games in August.
Malaysia, too, will seek to translate their recent form at youth level into an upturn in fortunes for the senior team after years in the doldrums.
The tournament kicks off today when Cambodia host Malaysia while Vietnam travel to Laos. Myanmar, who host Cambodia on Monday, complete Group A.
Group B begins tomorrow when Singapore play Indonesia at 8pm.
The top two finishers in each five-team group advance to the semi-finals, which will be played early next month, with a two-legged final to be played on Dec 11 and 15.
TIMOR-LESTE V THAILAND
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