YANGON (Sept 5, 2007) – Defending champions Vietnam will have to double their efforts if they harbour any hopes of retaining the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Women’s Championship crown this year.

The tournament, inaugurated last year with a four-team line-up, has attracted eight countries this time around, indicating the rising popularity of women’s football in the region.

Vietnam fully realise how much things have changed in just a year and have taken on a very modest approach this year.

“A lot has changed in the past year, many teams are taking the game seriously and have improved … we have to respect all our opponents here,” said Vietnam coach, Vu Ba Dong after the team manager’s here today.

Last year, Vietnam swept past all their opponents, defeating Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Myanmar, to finish the tournament with a maximum of nine points and claim the winner’s trophy.

This year, with five more teams jumping into the fray – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and international debutants Laos, Vietnam will have pull out all the stops to hang on to the cup.

“In view of the competition, we have prepared very carefully, we had a stint in China where we played four matches and capped it with a 10-day training camp in Vietnam before heading out here,” said Ba Dong, who added that only six players had been retained from the previous team.

Vietnam, drawn in Group A, will open their campaign against the Philippines on Friday.

The two other teams in the group are Malaysia and Indonesia.

The opening match of the tournament will see the hosts taking on Singapore in the curtain-raiser at the Youth Training Centre tomorrow afternoon.

The second Group B tie tomorrow is between Thailand and Laos.

“This is our very first international tournament,” said coach Xeunsavanh Sivisay, a former national player who previously handled the Laos Under-16 and Under-18 boys teams.

“Our players are all students, all aged around 17. We had six weeks to prepare for this tournament.”

Laos will no doubt have a tough time against Thailand, who are among the favourites here.

The Thais are preparing for the Korat SEA Games later this year and will be in good form coming into this tournament.

“Our focus is on the SEA Games at the end of the year so we have been preparing very hard. This year’s tournament will be an interesting one with more teams competing,” said Narumon Siriwat, the team manager.

Although Thailand may be among the front-runners, Narumon pointed to Myanmar as the team to look our for.

“They have always been a very persistent and determined team. They always give more than 100 percent and we have to be on guard for that. In a tournament in Malaysia, we were up 2-0 but they fought back and the final score was 3-3.”

Meanwhile Myanmar Football Federation president, U Zaw Zaw, thanked the AFF for giving the MFF the opportunity to host the event.

“I would also like to thank all those involved in helping us organise this event. Everyone has worked very hard for this tournament.”