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AFF Suzuki Cup draw serves up repeat of 2010 final

BANGKOK, July 11 - Defending champions and co-hosts Malaysia will face 2010 beaten finalists Indonesia and arch-rivals Singapore in a mouth-watering Group B of the AFF Suzuki Cup later this year after the draw in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Malaysia, who beat Indonesia 4-2 on aggregate two years ago to be crowned kings of Asean football for the first time, will also meet the second-placed qualifier.

Fellow co-hosts Thailand, the three-time champions who failed to reach the knock out stages in 2010, will play Vietnam in a repeat of the 2008 final, fast-improving Philippines and the first-placed qualifier in Group A.

Thailand lost 3-2 on aggregate to Vietnam in the showdown for the AFF Suzuki Cup four years ago.

Vietnam and the Philippines were drawn together in the 2010 edition with both qualifying for the knock-out stages at the expense of three-time winners Singapore and Myanmar.

The group stage will be played from November 24-December 1 with Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Timor Leste contesting a single round-robin qualifying group in Yangon, Myanmar from October 5-13.

Malaysia coach K.Rajagobal, who steered the Tigers to victory in 2010, was upbeat about the blockbuster draw.

"It is a really interesting draw" he said. "We are in the same group as Indonesia. I think it is good for our nation – it is going to be electrifying.

"I am excited about the challenge – Indonesia and Singapore are strong teams.

"My first priority is to go to the knock-out stages. We want to do well but I cannot guarantee anything. But the mind-set must be that we want to be there (champions) again."

Winfried Schafer, the former coach of Cameroon who replaced ex-England captain Bryan Robson at the helm of Thailand, said it was crucial that the team prepare well for the AFF Suzuki Cup.

"It is a very interesting draw and I am looking forward to the tournament," he said. "All the teams are very strong, there are no favourites."

"I have seen both Vietnam and the Philippines play and they are very strong. We have to train really hard and prepare well for the tournament so we can put a good team on the field."

"This tournament is very important for me and Thailand – we are trying to make it to the final."

The biennial AFF Suzuki Cup to crown the kings of Asean football stirs the passions of patriotic fans throughout the region who closely follow the action at the stadia and on television.

The 2010 tournament saw more than 750,000 spectators flock to the stadiums with over 192 million viewers tuning in to live broadcasts.

Two of the most iconic stadiums in Asean, the 49,000-capacity Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok and the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, will be the main venues for the group stage.

Both stadia have witnessed some epic encounters in the AFF Suzuki Cup.

The Rajamangala Stadium was the stage for the 2000 showdown when Thailand won the trophy for the second time with a 4-1 victory over Indonesia and close to 90,000 fans at Bukit Jalil Stadium cheered on Malaysia to a 3-0 win over Indonesia in the first leg of the 2010 final.

Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok, which holds 34,000 spectators, and the 70,000-capacity Shah Alam Stadium, near Kuala Lumpur, will each stage one match in the group stage.

The venue for the qualifying tournament will be the Youth Training Centre in Yangon.

The semi-finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup will be held on December 8/9 (first leg) and December 12/13(second leg) with the home and away final on December 19 and December 22.