Bhas Kunju introduces the ASEAN Football Championship, where as many as eight nations are vying for the honoursThe 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup will commence on November 24 and will be the ninth edition of the regional football competition, first started in 1996. Held this year in Thailand and Malaysia, the tournament for South-East Asian nations is the most prestigious and anticipated football competition in this region with a total of eight nations competing for honours at the finals.
A gruelling qualifying process held a month earlier, involving five teams, namely Timor Leste, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, saw Myanmar and minnows Laos progress to the tournament proper. The biennial football competition has been won by just four teams in its colourful 16-year history, with Singapore and Thailand winning the first six editions three times each.
The past couple of editions, however, has seen the dominance of the two traditional South-East Asian giants challenged by the likes of Vietnam and Malaysia, who have both written themselves into the annals of champions. Despite the regional focus, the tournament has its share of international flair as well and boasts a potpourri of culture.
FIFA's rules on international representation has paved the way for footballers from varied backgrounds to participate for their adopted countries. The likes of Singapore's prolific Bosnian-born forward Aleksandar Duric, Indonesia's half-Dutch, Raphael Guillermo Eduardo Maitimo and Philippines' half-English Younghusband brothers, James and Philip are to name a few.
This year's competition will see Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia play host to Singapore, Indonesia and Laos while Bangkok, Thailand will welcome Vietnam, Myanmar and Philippines.
Given the vast improvements and changes in the footballing landscape in South East Asia in recent years, the competition this year promises to be most open and competitive yet, with all eight teams looking to stand a chance of claiming the coveted AFF Cup trophy.