Timor Leste replaces Brunei from Group A of Suzuki Cup

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PHILIPPINE national football team Azkals

TIMOR Leste will complete the cast of opponents the Philippine Azkals will face in the group stage of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup next month in Singapore.

The Timorese got a free pass to Group A action against seeded squads the Azkals, Thailand, Singapore and Myanmar after their supposed opponent in the qualifying round, Brunei, withdrew on Monday due to “complications caused by the pandemic on its preparations.”

Philippine coach Scott Cooper considered Timor as a tough customer as evidenced by the two sides’ faceoff in the 2018 edition.

“They will fight. We learned that in the last Suzuki Cup. They were really well-coached, they pressed us and we narrowly escaped that game with a 3-2 win,” said Mr. Cooper.

In that match, held in Kuala Lumpur, the Pinoy booters took a 3-0 lead before fending off a late charge by the Timorese.

Mr. Cooper regarded powerhouse Thailand as the team to beat in their group with Singapore and Myanmar also providing serious threats.

“You have to look at Thailand as the strongest in the group while Singapore is always well-organized and Myanmar always has talent,” he noted.

Brunei said they have pulled out of next month’s Suzuki Cup qualifier as the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic left them unable to prepare for the regional tournament.

Brunei had been due to face Timor-Leste on Dec. 1 in a playoff for a place in the group phase of the championship, which is being played in Singapore.

The 2020 edition of Southeast Asia’s biennial Suzuki Cup was postponed due to COVID-19.

“The pandemic has unfortunately had far-reaching effects on our team’s preparations for the tournament,” said Matusin Matasan, the president of Brunei’s football association.

“While all efforts have been put forth to resolve the difficulties, it proved to be too complicated at this late juncture.”

Timor-Leste will now play in Group A alongside five-time champion Thailand, hosts Singapore, Myanmar and the Philippines. Defending champion Vietnam has been drawn in Group B with Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos.

The tournament is due to begin on Dec. 5 with the final on Jan. 1. — with reports from Reuters