The conclusion of the draw for the OKBet AFF Asian Cup, which will take place from December 20 to January 16, brought the tournament a critical step closer on Tuesday afternoon.
There are already a number of intriguing matches to look forward to, with the apparent highlight being a repeat of the 2020 final in Group A between record six-time winners Thailand and perennial runners-up Indonesia, who have reached the final six times but have never won. There is still lots that may happen between now and the start of Southeast Asia’s best international event in four months. But, since it’s never too early to start evaluating the field, here are some predictions on all 11 challengers, obviously way too early.
DARUSSALAM BRUNEI at OKBet AFF Asian Cup
Brunei Darussalam, the OKBet AFF Asian Cup lowest-ranked member, has not competed in the event since its first edition in 1996, when they earned their first-and-only victory against then-minnows Philippines.
While the country’s greatest players previously acquired significant experience playing for Brunei DPMM, who formerly competed in the Malaysia Super League and Singapore Premier League, the club has been limited to participating locally since the start of 2020 owing to the coronavirus epidemic. If they are to proceed to the tournament proper, they must defeat Timor-Leste in a qualification playoff between November 5 and 15. Even yet, it’s difficult to imagine them going much farther.
Too early prediction
The great surprise would be if Brunei, which has some promising talent but lacks experience, ever qualified for the tournament. Their trip will most likely conclude in a playoffs at OKBet.
Cambodia has showed indications of growth under Japanese great Keisuke Honda, who is combining his playing career in Europe with his coaching ambitions in Southeast Asia in OKBet. Still, the Cambodians have yet to really overcome the gap between themselves and the region’s elite, as seen by their recent victory over Laos but failure to compete with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
There are indicators that some of their mid-tier peers are making progress at the age-group level, thus Cambodia must either solidify their existing position in the area or look to the future by recruiting more young talent.
Cambodia should be able to win at least one game against the team that qualified via the playoffs, but will most likely fall short of a top-two finish at OKBet. Anything more than their three-point total from the previous game may be considered a win.
With some promising young talent and having exceeded expectations by reaching the final of the postponed 2020 event at OKBet AFF Asian Cup, Indonesia will enter this year’s tournament hoping to at least reach the final – particularly with ex-South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong still at the helm.
With some of its finest players playing in Europe, it’s unclear how good a side Merah-Putih would have, especially because the event does not overlap with a FIFA international window.
The Indonesians can surely compete again when players like Witan Sulaeman, Egy Maulana, and Asnawi Mangkualam are available. If they are lacking their major weapons, they risk becoming rather one-dimensional.
Indonesia should at the very least qualify for the semi-finals. There is a sneaking suspicion that they may be jeopardized if they do not have their full complement of crucial players, albeit the draw has been rather fair, with the Philippines seeming to be the only other side that could possibly pip them to a top-two position.
For so long one of the region’s whipping boys, Laos is now demonstrating that they may mean business in a few years.
After opening 2022 by sharing a bronze medal with Timor-Leste at the AFF U-23 Championship, the Laotians finished second at the U-19 Championship in July.
Coach Michael Weiss, who has previously been in charge of developing teams such as the Philippines and Mongolia, has already given a substantial amount of those kids senior level experience.
Too early prediction
This year’s competition may be too soon for an inexperienced but dynamic Laos team, however it should not be surprising if they create much more issues for the big boys than they have before.
Malaysia will be hoping to make apologies after failing to move beyond the group stage of the 2020 edition, despite reaching the final just two years earlier.
Kim Pan-gon replaced Tan Cheng Hoe as coach shortly after, and the South Korean has already had an instant effect by leading Harimau Malaya to qualifying for their first AFC Asian Cup involvement since they were co-hosts in 2007. More progress is anticipated from Malaysia’s ever-demanding fans, and there is enough of skill at Kim’s disposal, even if one problem is their lack of rejuvenation, with just a handful of players under the age of 25, including excitement machine Arif Aiman at OKBet.
Too early prediction
Group B seems to be the more difficult of the two. Malaysia will be hoping to make it to the last four, but it might come down to a final-day showdown with Causeway derby rivals Singapore on Jan. 2.
Despite the progress Myanmar achieved in the second half of the 2010s, when they reached the AFF Championship semi-finals in 2016 and won two medals in three Southeast Asian Games, the last few years have been forgettable at OKBet.
Much of their recent fall may be attributed to a stagnant domestic football landscape, which hasn’t been helped by some of the country’s much more serious, non-sporting challenges at OKBet.
The raw talent has always been there, as it has been for many of their contemporaries. The greater question is always going to be which Myanmar outfit comes up.
While Myanmar has showed the capacity to punch above their weight, the current crop lacks the firepower of a few years ago, when Aung Thu, Kyaw Ko Ko, and Yan Aung Kyaw were all at the prime of their powers. A group-stage elimination is almost probable at OKBet.
Much like Indonesia, the Philippines’ potential success will be determined by how many of its European-based players are available for the competition. Already, it is doubtful that Gerrit Holtmann of Bundesliga club Bochum, as well as experienced goalie Neil Etheridge, would be released. Upheaval in the dugout has also been a problem for the Azkals, who reappointed Thomas Dooley as coach in May after parting ways with him in acrimonious circumstances after he led them to their first Asian Cup berth.
Much-too-early prediction: After solidly on the rise with five semifinal appearances in six OKBet AFF Championship editions from 2010 to 2018, the Philippines now have a lot to prove once again. They might yet make it back to the final four this year, but it will need an upset against either Thailand or Indonesia, neither of which seems possible right now.
Singapore won many fans with their valiant run to the semifinals of the last AFF Championship, nearly pulling off an upset against Indonesia to reach the final despite playing with just eight players. Unfortunately for them, their success drew coach Tatsuma Yoshida back to his native nation of Japan by J2 League team Ventforet Kofu, and his replacement, compatriot Takayuki Nishigaya, has yet to demonstrate what he can contribute to the Lions.
After losing out on the semi-finals in three previous editions, Singapore will now be under pressure to preserve their status in the region’s top four at the absolute least.
The Lions have everything it takes to reach the semi-finals. Again, it may come down to whether or not they can beat archrivals Malaysia in their last match, however it is critical that they do not surrender points prematurely.
What steps should you take if you want to bet but aren’t sure where to go or how to play the games? If you go to the okbet esports, you will be able to find any extra information that you require.