Thailand begin the defence of their AFF Suzuki Cup title tomorrow in the tournament’s opening game against Indonesia and their charismatic coach and former star striker Kiatisuk Senamuang is once again at his calculative best.
He led The War Elephants to glory two years ago against Malaysia in the final – lifting the trophy for a record equaling fourth time along with Singapore – and on the eve of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup he is cautiously eyeing a fifth victory.
“Statistics are in the past, we are looking at the present,” said the man they call ‘Zico’ at today’s press conference, which was also attended by Thomas Dooley, Alfred Riedl and V. Sudram Moorthy, the respective coaches of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore.
Thailand have been pitted in Group A with Indonesia – who they play at 4.30pm tomorrow (Manila time) at the Philippine Sports Stadium – and the Philippines and Singapore, who play against each other at the same venue at 8pm.
“Every team is strong, we would prefer to only focus on our team. We want to be champions but we will focus on the group stage first,” added Kiatisuk.
His team received a welcome boost to their chances when they drew 2-2 with Australia on Tuesday in a World Cup qualifier in Bangkok. But Kiatisuk is more concerned how that has effected the fitness of his players.
“We just played in the World Cup qualifiers. Some players played the whole match and they are tired,” he added.
Riedl is fully aware of the threat Thailand will pose tomorrow and said: “I don’t believe Thailand will be tired because they are all professionals.”
This year marks the first time the Philippines have hosted one of the Groups and having made it to the semi-finals in the last three editions they are eagerly anticipating the kick off.
“We are very excited for the biggest tournament of the year, hopefully we have some nice weeks in front of us,” said Dooley.
“We want to be successful and make the people of the Philippines happy. To do that we need to win some games.”
He added: “In football anything can happen. You need everything to fall into place like a puzzle. The players need to be fit, healthy, sleep well, eat right and take it seriously, then you have a chance.”
“We’ve got to win games. We are not thinking about the trophy yet. Thailand are a good team, we have never won against them, we hope to show progression this year.”
The Singaporean team spent their build up in Qatar and Sundramoorthy feels his squad are well prepared despite a series of poor results.
“A football game is 90 minutes, it is about how we approach the game. We can press high or park the bus, we’ll see tomorrow,” he said.
“Obviously every game has a favourite and underdog. It’s good that we are underdogs because there is more pressure on the favourites. Anything can happen.”
In Southeast Asia no sporting event captures the imagination of the public like the AFF Suzuki Cup.
The biennial tournament will be played from November 19 to December 17 and having been launched in 1996 it is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
For the first time Myanmar and the Philippines are hosting the Group matches.
Joint hosts Myanmar battle it out in Group B with Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia, with the first of those matches played on Sunday.
The top two sides from each Group will progress to the semi-finals, played home and away from December 3 to 8.
The final, also played over two legs, will be staged on December 14 and 17.
A Trophy Tour of the region which visited Yangon, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Manila recently ended and helped ramp up the excitement to the thrilling sporting spectacle.