image source: affsuzukicup.com
Drivers, start your engines! The 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup is about to begin. Don’t be fooled by the sponsorship naming; this competition has absolutely nothing to do with auto racing. This is the bi-annual football championship of Southeast Asia. This year’s edition is being co-hosted by Vietnam and Singapore. The Philippines and Indonesia were also considered as potential hosts, but for once in football, the smaller nations prevailed. I’m wondering if the brand spanking new, 55,000 seat, 1.44 billion US dollar National Stadium in Singapore had anything do with the decision? Check this thing out on Wikipedia. It features a retractable roof and seats!
A quick note about the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF). It’s short for Association of South East Asian Nations and is comprised of 12 member nations. This year’s championship featured 11 entrants. Australia did not enter, probably due to lack of incentive. A senior Aussie squad would steamroll through this competition. A watered down squad would be detrimental not only to the integrity of the championship, but also their FIFA ranking.
Qualification was held last month as a 5 team, round-robin group, played out in Laos. The top 2 would qualify for Vietnam/Singapore 2014. Myanmar recovered from an embarrassing draw to Timor-Leste in their first match to top the group. Hosts Laos finished a close second, dropping only one decision to Myanmar. Cambodia would finish in the unenviable 3rd position, missing the finals by 3 points. Turns out conceding an 81st minute winner to Laos in their opening match would be their undoing. Timor-Leste returned to international competition after a two year absence and grabbed their first win since October 2012. Brunei actually followed through with their commitment to a tournament. The Wasps had little sting, however, and would lose all 4 of their games.
The 8 team finals are divided into two groups of 4. Vietnam will host the Philippines, Indonesia, and Laos in Group A. Let’s take a look and see how we think it’ll shake out.
We are constantly looking for new ways to visualize data at WGF. The simple 4 team chart has somehow eluded us over the years. Taking a look at the above, you’ll see that our model likes the Vietnamese to grab the lion’s share of the points in this group. We give them over a 50% chance of finishing with either 7 or 9 points. If they in fact finish with either of those point totals, they’re a lock to finish in the top 2. If you want to toss in the 15%+ to finish on 6, you can deduce that we give them close to a 70% chance of winning two games. It would be an epic disaster should they not advance.
The Philippines and Indonesia are going to be vying for the second spot in the semi-finals. Our model says they draw, so we’re going to have to separate these two in other fashion. It could very well come down to either who beats Laos by more goals or who is able to steal points from Vietnam.
The order of the fixtures is a key component to consider as well. Usually you see the hosts get off to an easy start, and then play the second fancied team last. Not the case in this group. Vietnam will open with Indonesia, and Philippines with Laos. Starting a group on 3 points is massive. Indonesia doesn’t get Laos until match day 3, and it could already be a “too little, too late” scenarios. Given that fact, I give the nod to the Philippines to escape group A in second place.
Singapore will host Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar in group B. They got a tough draw!
Similar to Group A, we give Thailand roughly a 50% chance of finishing on 7 or 9 points, and about a 70% chance of winning two games. The War Elephants should not struggle to advance.
However, dissimilar to Group A, the projected 4th place team appears to be a stiffer test than Laos. This group could conceivably be considered a 3 team race for second, but in reality it’s probably a 2.5 team race. Myanmar have an 80% chance of finishing with 4 points or less. Seeing how they are the weakest team in the group, 4 points will not be enough to advance. It’s a shame because WGF loves pulling for the little guy, but the gap between the 2 qualifiers and the 6 automatic qualifiers is just too great.
The second place spot is going to come down to Malaysia and Singapore. Interestingly enough, Singapore has only lost to Malaysia once in their previous 5 meetings. Even more interesting is that Singapore eliminated Malaysia from 2014 World Cup! It’s safe to say these two teams have history! Our model thinks Singapore will beat Malaysia by the slimmest of margins in their head-to-head matchup. Of course they don’t play until match day 3. I think Singapore’s home field advantage will see them have better results than Malaysia through the first two matches, but match day 3 will almost certainly be a “winner take all” scenario. Let’s go with the home squad to squeak through.
The knockout rounds of the Suzuki Cup are different than what we are accustomed to seeing. Instead of playing one match, the semi-finals and finals are contested over home-and-away legs. This is definitely an exciting way to settle the top 4 teams. Should our predictions come to fruition, we think the semi-finals will look like this:
Vietnam v. Singapore
Thailand v. Philippines
We aren’t going to get into predicting the semi-finals just yet due to their two-legged nature. We will certainly revisit the Suzuki Cup once the top 4 take a pit stop to re-fuel and change tires. The knockout round begins on the 6th of December, so we will certainly have something up by the 4th or 5th. Thanks for reading and good luck to all the ASEAN teams competing!
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