The Jakarta Globe picked the brains of the experts and asked what challenges await Merah Putih in its AFF Cup group stage:
Fachri Husaini, Bontang FC head coach: The “no foreign player” policy in the Malaysian Super League just goes to show how much emphasis Football Association Malaysia is putting on its local youth development. Malaysia is now benefiting from that as seen in the team’s gold medal run in the 2009 Southeast Asian Games.
Malaysia’s coach, K. Rajagopal, has a strong belief the youth movement will work at this AFF Cup. He will use the team’s advantage in conditioning and just the physical aspect of their game to the hilt, so they cannot be taken for granted.
From what we know, Malaysia recently returned from Slovenia where it played a few pro clubs there. They reached the quarterfinals of the Asian Games but lost to Iran 3-1.
This is a tough group and it’s hard to say if they’ll advance. But all things being equal, having the home-pitch advantage will see us through to the next round.
Unfortunately, only two teams will advance, and Malaysia I think won’t.
Sandy Pramuji, Jakarta Globe sports editor: Laos has been developing into a football force in Southeast Asia.
For the first time ever, the country’s under-23 team made it to the semifinal in the 2009 SEA Games. The team it beat to reach the last four? Indonesia.
Laos also finished on top in the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifying rounds, if that means anything. Lamnao Singto, the team’s top striker, will be the man to watch while Sounthalay Saysongkham will be orchestrating the team from the midfield.
Having said all that, it’s a young squad from David Booth, with only five of his players over 23. They will immediately realize the AFF Cup is where the big boys play, so I don’t see them making it out of the group stage. At least not this year.”
Rahmad Darmawan, Persija Jakarta head coach: Thailand has a good reputation in the region.
They’ve won the AFF Cup three times and are considered a regional powerhouse.
They easily adapt to a system, and they’re able to execute that regardless of who coaches them.
Plus, their players really move well on the pitch. You always feel there’s a sense of pride when they play for their country, and you can see them enjoying what they’re doing at the same time.
The pressure may be on English coach Bryan Robson. He enjoyed a great career as a player, but he has yet to prove himself as a coach.
I think Robson doesn’t want to do anything drastic with his side, although he might have sensed that there’s a lack of leadership on his team.
He’s given most of that responsibility to his veteran, Therdsak Chaiman. The team also played quite well at the Asian Games, advancing to the knockout stage before they lost 1-0 to Japan in the quarterfinals.
If Thailand is going to encounter any problems, it’s not during this stage. I like their chances of reaching the semifinals.