The AFF U19 Championships got underway yesterday with ten teams vying for bragging rights of the ASEAN region. At a press conference after the team managers’ meeting, team representatives offered diplomatic outlooks for the tournament, with most content that their players would be gaining valuable international experience ahead of the SEA Games in November.
Cambodia are placed in Group A alongside the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Keo Kosal, assistant coach of the U19 Cambodian team, showed neither optimism nor pessimism for their opening fixture against Malaysia this afternoon.
“Our team has been together for the past two months. We had no chance to organize the friendly matches at home [but played two in Vietnam],” he said. “We will try our best to get a good result from this tough group.”
Malaysia U19 head coach Ismail Ibrahim, meanwhile, set his team a target of a semifinals berth. “We need to work hard to play against experienced team such as Thailand and Singapore. All of our players play in the second division of Malaysian league,” he said.
Football in the Philippines has become increasingly popular in recent years due to some encouraging results by the senior national team. However, U19s head coach Maor Rozen noted his youthful squad had their work cut out.
“It is a competition between old boys and young men. First of all, we are young team. We have an average age of around 17 years old. We hope to get more experience from this regional tournament,” he said.
Chuchar Peutiang, an official with the Thai team, revealed that the majority of their players came from their U16 squad and had only trained together for two weeks.
“Most of them have no experience in the top leagues – Thai Premier League or Thai First Division. However, we had four friendly matches before coming here,” he said.
Mohamad Bakar Nawas, head coach of Singapore, said: “Most of our boys will be in the U23 squad for the upcoming SEA Games. They are from a local league in Singapore. I hope they can do well but we can not look down on other sides.”
In Group B, Brunei are making their first appearance at an international event since FIFA lifted their suspension earlier this year. “We can’t compare to the teams which have been playing together for months or years, but we will do our best to show our capacity in the field,” said coach Zainuddin Kassim. “We are thankful to the AFF and also to FIFA for allowing us to come back into football family.”
The host nation’s coach, Gerd Horst, remained quietly confident of their chances in the competition.
“We have been training for several months, but in the last month we have made some changes to the team where we have obtained some players from the MNL [Mynamar National League],” he said.
“As hosts, we expect to reach the semifinals but I cannot promise that we can win the tournament. The only thing that I can promise is that we will perform well.”
Like Malaysia, Indonesia were also aiming for at least the semifinals. “We brought 22 of our best players and hopefully we can get into the semifinals of this championship,” head coach Zulkifli Alfat said. “We have been in intensive training for the past one and half month.”
Truong Hai Tung, team manager of Vietnam, asserted that they were keen to gauge their players and see how they perform under a competitive environment. “We have four players playing in the V-League and we also have one Russian-born player, who is the team’s goalkeeper,” he added.
Laos head coach Xeunvisay Sivisay noted his side’s lack of experience. “Around 40 percent of the players are from the provincial teams while the rest are from the Laos League. We have no international experience and this is something which we need to work on in the long term. We all dream to be champions of course but the road there is long and hard,” he said.
- Indonesia 3 Laos 3
- Brunei 0 Vietnam 7
All matches play at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon
Friday September 9
- Philippines v Singapore – 3:30pm
- Cambodia v Malaysia – 6:10pm
Saturday September 10
- Vietnam v Myanmar – 3:30pm
- Brunei v Laos – 6:10pm
Sunday September 11
- Malaysia v Thailand – 3:30pm
- Cambodia v Philippines – 6:10pm