| VIENTIANE (23 Oct 2010) – There was a time when the teams competing in the qualifying rounds of the AFF Suzuki Cup were not taken seriously. Afterall, they were considered the weakest teams in the region and whoever advanced would not make much of a difference to the “bigger and more established” teams in the final rounds.
All that has clearly changed now or how else would one explain the sudden appearance of Thai coach Bryan Robson here for yesterday’s opening matches.
Many here including the Laos FA officials were caught by surprise when Robson and his assistant, Steve Darby, turned up for the qualifiers. They watched the four teams in action, the opener between Philippines and Timor Leste and the second tie between Laos and Cambodia.
Robson, a former Manchester United and England great, and his assistant followed the proceedings closely and must have been surprised especially with the performance of the Philippines team which whipped Timor Leste 5-0.
Led by young English coach Simon McMenemy and boosted by the presence of EPL club, Fulham’s second keeper, Neil Etherige, the Filipinos performed remarkably to systematically destroy their rivals. McMenemy was not kidding when he said the team was one of the best ever prepared for a tournament.
No one knows for sure if Robson and Darby will be sticking around for tomorrow’s matches between Cambodia and Timor Leste, and the second tie involving Philippines and Laos. But he could well be in for more surprises if he decides to stay on.
Thailand have been drawn in Group A along with hosts Jakarta and Malaysia. The winner of this qualifying tournament will take up the fourth slot in Group A.