Friday, December 7, 2012

AFF Suzuki Cup Semi Finals Preview

Malaysia v Thailand (Sun 9 Dec, Bukit Jalil Stadium, KL)
Thailand v Malaysia (Thur 13 Dec, Supachalasai)

A full house is expected at the Bukit Jalil Stadium as current holders Malaysia take on cup favorites Thailand. The Tigers got off to a disastrous start in the group stages when they were ambushed 3-0 by Singapore in their own backyard. Since then they've regained their composure with victories over Laos and Indonesia. Malaysia will be hoping that the momentum built from those two victories carries over for their all important home clash with Thailand. Safee Sali was the top scorer in the 2010 tournament and has been identified by Winnie Schafer as their main attacking threat - although reports indicate that he may miss the match due to a thigh strain.

For Thailand, confidence is booming after they eased their way through the group stages with three wins. Provided that there are no fresh injuries, I'd imagine that Schafer will revert to his original starting 11 with the Muangthong 7 accompanied by Cholratit, Anucha, Adul and Theerathon. This game is Thailand's biggest test since their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign petered out around this time last year. A draw in KL may well be a suitable outcome for the cautious minded, but I believe Thailand can go to Malaysia and get that crucial first leg lead. From what I've seen through my rose-tinted glasses, Thailand are the best side in the tournament with Teerasil currently being the star player in the ASEAN region.

Philippines v Singapore (Sat 8 Dec, Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila)

Singapore v Philippines (Wed 12 Dec, Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore)

Back in 2010, qualifying for the semi finals of the AFF Cup was regarded as a major achievement for the Azkals. This time though, expectation levels have risen with the prospect of their first major AFF final within touching distance. The Philippines have already beaten Singapore twice this year and will be looking towards key players like Phil Younghusband, Jason de Jong and the towering Angel Guirado to tame the Singapore Lions once again. The Azkals were boosted with the news that some of their European based players have been released for the Last 4 by their respective clubs.

Singapore on the other hand finished top of Group B, but were not firing on all cylinders when the beat Laos 4-3 last time out. The Lions were trailing 2-0 to the underdogs before Singapore coach Raddy Avramovich made two first half tactical substitutions. The Singapore stalwart, Daniel Bennett, was one of the players hooked which lead to Avramovich coming out to publicly defend the player for his poor showing. The coach has also remained faithful to 42 year old Aleksander Duric despite having other younger attackers at his disposal. The 6ft 4in Bosnain born striker's inclusion splits opinion amongst Singapore fans while he is most remembered by Thai football followers as the man who scored the winning goal three years ago when Singapore beat Thailand 1-0 in the qualifying round for the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar.

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