KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 — Harimau Malaya head coach, Tan Chen Hoe has acknowledged the challenge of traditional enemies, Indonesia and Cambodia, should not be taken lightly in the Group B competition of the AFF Cup 2020 tournament.

The competition will begin on December 5 and ends on January 1 next year.

Apart from world’s 95th ranked team Vietnam, who are in a class of its own as well as preparations for the Qatar World Cup 2022 well underway, Cheng Hoe said he would not underestimate the capabilities of neighbours Indonesia (175) and Cambodia (178) in the team’s pursuit of the group’s top two positions to advance to the semifinals.

“Vietnam are the favourites in the group but what is important for us is to take one game at a time. And at the same time, we are not just focusing on Vietnam alone but also Indonesia who are our traditional enemies.

“We are also not taking Cambodia lightly because they have talented players apart from Laos. We must focus on one game at a time,” he said through a video recording which was shared by the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) today.

Earlier, in an online draw, world ranked 154th and 2018 runners-up, Malaysia are drawn in Group B along with defending champions Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos (186th)

Group A comprises the most successful team of championship, five-time winners Thailand (122nd), Myanmar (146th), Philippines (125th), Singapore (160th) and the winners in the qualifying round between Brunei (190th) and Timor-Lester (194th).

Commenting on this year’s format which will be will be held as a carnival at a central venue that has not been decided due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cheng Hoe admitted that preparations needed to be more vigorous because of the absence of home ground advantage.

“The 2018 edition was a big motivation for the players because there were two matches at group level where they played on home ground advantage and two away games. Despite playing in a carnival format, we need to focus on each game and on team preparation,” he said.

With only two more months before the tournament begins, the coaching team will continue to monitor the players’ performances with their respective teams during the Malaysia Cup 2021 campaign, besides two Tier 1 international matches early next month.

“At the same time we must also monitor the progress of other teams. We hope the players called up for national duty this time will give their best for the national squad,” he said.

In the last tournament, Malaysia defeated Cambodia 1 - 0, Laos 3 - 1 and Myanmar 3 - 0 but lost 0 - 2 to Vietnam in Group A before defeating Thailand in the semi-finals according to the away goal rule when they were tied 0 - 0 at Bukit Jalil and drew 2 -2 in Bangkok.

However, Harimau Malaya squad lost 2 - 3 on aggregate to Vietnam in the finals, after tying with the Golden Dragon 2 - 2 at Bukit Jalan but lost to the team 0 - 1 in Hanoi.

Malaysia emerged winners once in 2010 under coach Datuk K. Rajagopal since the biennial tournament started in 1996 and runners-up three times in 1996, 2014 and 2018.

Only four countries have emerged champions  multiple times  with Thailand emerging winners in 1996, 2000, 2002, 2014 and 2016 followed by Singapore with four championships  (1998, 2004, 2007 and 2012) and Vietnam (2008 and 2018). — Bernama