SEA lockdown gives Golden Dragons advantage in AFF Cup title fight

By Hoang Nguyen   July 7, 2020 | 05:31 am PT
SEA lockdown gives Golden Dragons advantage in AFF Cup title fight
Vietnam (red) play Malaysia at the AFF Cup in December, 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.
With the return of domestic football, Vietnam holds a major advantage over Southeast Asian peers ahead of AFF Cup 2020, scheduled for the end of this year.

Although it is still four months until the biggest football event in Southeast Asia kicks off, the considerable leverage held by coach Park Hang-seo and his Golden Dragons at present may yet serve the team well in defending its AFF Cup title, won in 2018.

Because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, domestic leagues across Southeast Asia remain suspended, apart from Vietnam, which recommenced the National Cup at the end of May. In June, top division V. League 1 also welcomed spectators back to the stadium, giving coach Park enough scope to scout the best players ahead of the AFF Cup title fight.

With only Thai and Malaysia leagues set to return in September, Vietnam enjoys a huge advantage when it comes to game preparation.

More fire power

Vietnam's main opponents, including Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines are set to further lack appropriate fire power entering AFF Cup as clubs may prohibit players from taking part in the non-FIFA tournament due to conflicting domestic leagues.

In this case, both Thailand and Malaysia would have to rely on weakened squads at AFF Cup, while Vietnam fields its battle-ready best after V. League 1 concludes in September.

Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) has arranged all schedules so coach Park and his Golden Dragons could have about two months to prepare for the tournament. VFF also invited Kyrgyzstan for a friendly on October 8.

As defending champions, Vietnam will only have to play much weaker Laos, Timor-Leste or Brunei in their first group stage game, a possible victory affording players a mental boost before the next round.

AFF Cup 2020 will take place from November 23 to December 31, featuring 10 teams drawn into two groups of five each. In this edition, each team can select up to 70 players for their preliminary squad, refined to 30 in the final list. Besides, teams can register 23 players max per game instead of the previous 20.

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