AFF Suzuki Cup Group A preview: Malaysia and Vietnam the teams to beat
There are plenty of local rivalries at play in Group A of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup. ESPN FC runs the rule over the five hopefuls:
Form: The exploits of the under-23 team this year have been a very welcome piece of good news that has helped lift some of the gloom in Malaysian football. There have been signs of progression under manager Tan Cheng Hoe, but November's tournament is a major test.
Coach: Tan Cheng Hoe. Thoughtful and studious, Tan is well-liked by the players but that won't stop the criticism at home if results are poor.
Key man: Safawi Rasid. The 21-year-old has already proved to be one of the most exciting young talents in the region and, while it is unfair to place too much pressure on the shoulders of this young winger, he has that bit of something different that Malaysia have been lacking.
Prospects: The opening game in Cambodia is crucial. A repeat of the recent friendly win in Phnom Penh would get Malaysia's self-belief going and would also give the team a great chance of the last four.
Form: The senior side has not played a lot of late and warmed up with a Korean training camp and friendlies against local clubs. Qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup was impressive and there is a nucleus of young players that have come through the ranks together.
Coach: Park Hang-seo. "South Korea's Guus Hiddink" -- or "Uncle Park" as he is nicknamed in Vietnam -- is a popular figure after leading the under-23 team to a series of impressive results in continental tournaments. The tactician has introduced a more pragmatic style to the Golden Stars and they should be harder to beat than before.
Key man: Dang Van Lam. The goalkeeper has just broken into the national team and is set to be the No. 1 for a number of years. Vietnam have plenty of attacking and creative talent and, if things are tight at the back, there is a real chance of a repeat of Vietnam's 2008 AFF Cup success.
Prospects: With Thailand without many of their biggest stars, Vietnam have moved from second favourites to front-runner.
Form: The Angkor Warriors have lost most of their friendlies of late but the team are usually competitive.
Coach: That's an unusually tough question. In September's friendly with Malaysia, it was Keisuke Honda (unofficially) calling the shots but the Japanese star is busy with Melbourne Victory in Australia. Argentine Felix Gonzalez will take the reins for the AFF Cup.
Key man: Chan Vathanaka. The attacker known as CR11 lost his way a little with an ill-fated move to Japan in 2017, but the 24-year-old started in the last edition of the AFF Cup and still has what it takes to shine on the regional stage.
Prospects: Cambodia have improved since being regional whipping boys, even if there has been something of a plateau in the past year or two. Picking up a few points and being competitive will be enough -- and that will be helped by some of the most passionate home fans in Asia.
Form: After an encouraging 2017, results this year have been poor. However, the federation should be congratulated for arranging tests with China, Bolivia and Bahrain -- they may have all ended in defeat but their true value should be revealed especially after a pre-tournament training camp in Qatar.
Coach: Antoine Hey. The German has plenty of experience in Europe and especially Africa, and has brought energy behind the scenes in Yangon.
Key man: Zaw Min Tun. There is plenty of attacking talent in the team with the likes of Aung Thu, but Zaw Min Tun plays his club football in Thailand and there are signs that the Chonburi man is developing into a real leader and organiser.
Prospects: The White Angels made the last four two years ago and deservedly so. That was on home soil however and the target is to repeat the feat this time. The final game against Malaysia will be vital.
Form: Results have not been great lately for Laos, but then, they rarely are. The days of trashings look to be over however as the men from Vientiane look to close the gap.
Coach: V Sundramoorthy is coming off an unhappy spell with Singapore that did not go especially well with the early exit at the 2016 tournament a notable low. He did not always get the support he needed however and should make Laos harder to beat.
Key man: Khonesavanh Sihavong. The diminutive midfielder is an influential figure for Thim Xad and they will need all of his intelligence and leadership.
Prospects: There have been some tough times for football in the country and just avoiding Group A's wooden spoon would be welcomed.