From World Cup to Suzuki Cup for globe-trotting Azkals coach
MANILA, Philippines – Sven-Goran Eriksson once pushed for World Cup glory with England but the much-travelled coach is now eyeing Southeast Asian silverware with his new team, the Philippines.
The Philippines has never won the Suzuki Cup but the door could be open for the 70-year-old Swede after Thailand, the defending champion, was 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 has dominated Southeast Asia's biennial tournament, winning the last two editions and a record 5 in total.
But Eriksson, who took England to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002 and 2006, has targeted an improvement on the Azkals' 3 semifinal 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, Thailand's Japan-based stars 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."
Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac said he hoped his team would thrive in the pressure of missing their senior players.
"We will play in the Suzuki Cup without the 4 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 number one 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 take on Singapore 3 days later and then East Timor, before returning to the English Premier League once the international break ends on November 20.
But Etheridge will be available in January for the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, 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." – Rappler.com