Super Thais seek record fifth Suzuki Cup
MANILA: Thailand will seek to underline their supremacy in Southeast Asian football by retaining the Suzuki Cup, a tournament that draws passionate support and also close scrutiny for possible match-fixing.
The War Elephants are Southeast Asia’s last team standing in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, and they won new admirers in last week’s 2-2 draw with Asian champions Australia. Thailand’s smooth-passing, attackminded team have contested the last two Suzuki Cup finals and they are bidding to become the first country to win the competition five times. But their coach Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang said they would not be living on past glories when they open the tournament against Indonesia today.
“Statistics are in the past, we are looking at the present,” the former Thailand striker told reporters in Manila. “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.
Victory in the biennial tournament, split between Manila and Yangon, would make Thailand the first country to lift the trophy five times. This year, Thailand also made it to the Asian U23 final, while their women’s team reached the World Cup for the first time.
Thailand’s star man is Teerasil Dangda, who top-scored at the 2008 and 2012 Suzuki Cups but missed their 2014 victory during his stint with La Liga club Almeria.
“(Twice) being the top scorer of the tournament was meaningless because we got nothing from it,” said Teerasil, who bagged both of Thailand’s goals last week against Australia. “I would prefer to win the tournament than be the top-scorer. I was disappointed not to have been in the squad last time.” Thailand also play Singapore and cohosts the Philippines in Group A, while Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam are in Yangon-based Group B. Southeast Asian football attracts enormous support but it has frequently been plagued by match-fixing, as seen by the suspension of four Laos internationals earlier this month. Anti-corruption agency Sportradar will oversee the competition, monitoring hundreds of bookies for unusual betting patterns. “Sportradar’s fraud detection system will notify the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) if there are any suspicious betting patterns on any of the 12 group games or the six games in the knock-out stages,” Sportradar said last week.