World Cup to the Suzuki Cup for Eriks­son

The Phnom Penh Post - - SPORT -

SVEN-GORAN Eriks­son once pushed for World Cup glor y with Eng­land but the much­trav­elled coach is now eye­ing South­east Asian sil­ver ware as coach of his new tea m, t he Philip­pines.

The Philip­pines have never won the Suzuki Cup but the door could be open for the 70-year-old Swede af­ter Thai­land, the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, were forced to field a weak­ened team.

As the 10-team tour­na­ment kicks off this week, Thai­land, the Philip­pines and Viet­nam also have one eye on the much big­ger Asian Cup, which they will play in Jan­uary af­ter it ex­panded to 32 teams.

Thai­land have dom­i­nated South­east Asia’s bi­en­nial tour­na­ment, win­ning the last two edi­tions and a record five in to­tal.

But Eriks­son, who took Eng­land to World Cup quar­ter-fi- nals in 2002 and 2006, has tar­geted an im­prove­ment on the Azkals’ three semi-fi­nal ap­pear­ances from 2010 to 2014.

“The pres­sure is on the whole team to try to do bet­ter in the Suzuki Cup than the Philip­pines has done be­fore. That means at least reach­ing the fi­nal,” said Eriks­son.

As the Suzuki Cup isn’t part of Fifa’s of­fi­cial cal­en­dar, Thail a nd’s Ja pan- bas e d s t a r s Teerasil Dangda and Chanathip Songkrasin, the top-scorer and MVP re­spec­tively in 2016, are un­able to make the trip.

Cap­tain Theerathon Bun­mathan is also busy in Ja­pan, while goal­keeper Kawin Tham­satchanan has not been re­leased by his Bel­gian club OH Leu­ven.

Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion of Thai­land pres­i­dent Somyot Poom­pan­muong sug­gested the Thais’ pri­or­ity was the Asian Cup, where they haven’t reached the knock­out stages since 1972.

“The Asian Cup is very im­por­tant for us,” he told AFP. “We want to get past the group stage. That is our tar­get this time.”

Somyot added: “The AFF Cup is also im­por­tant for us. We don’t have some of our best play­ers so that makes it more dif­fi­cult but gives other play­ers a chance.”

‘Un­der pres­sure’

Tha i la nd coach Milova n Ra­je­vac sa id he hoped his team would thrive in the pres­sure of miss­ing t heir se­nior play­ers.

“We will play in the Suzuki Cup with­out the four but I have faith in other play­ers. We are a team and ev­ery­body is equally im­por­tant,” the Serb said.

“Our aim is to re­tain the Suzuki Cup. We are un­der pres­sure but I will try to make my play­ers turn pres­sure into mo­ti­va­tion. We will do our best.”

The Philip­pines will also be af­fected by the sched­ul­ing and will have to man­age with­out goal­keeper Neil Etheridge, for the most part at least.

The Cardiff City No1 was named in the pre­lim­i­nary 29-man squad and is ex­pected to jet to Asia af­ter Cardiff ’s clash with Brighton and Hove Al­bion on Satur­day.

He should be ready to ta ke on Sin­ga­pore three days later and then Ti­mor Leste, be­fore re­turn­ing to t he English Premier League once t he in­tern a t i on a l br e a k e nd s on Novem­ber 20.

But Etheridge will be avail­able in Jan­uary for the Asian Cup in the UAE, when they face South Korea, China and Kyr­gyzs­tan in Group C.

The Philip­pines, un­der Eriks­son, will be mak­ing their first ap­pear­ance in the con­ti­nen­tal tour­na­ment.

“I could eas­ily say win it [but] I don’t know if it’s re­al­is­tic to think that for the first time,” Eriks­son said.

“Let’s start with the Suzuki Cup. That’s first.”

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