|By Bhas Kunju
Chief Editor, Goal.com Singapore
The 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup got off to a splendid start on Saturday in Bangkok, Thailand where Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines joined the host nation for the flagship regional tournament.
Playing hosts for the third time in four editions, Thailand welcomed the teams of Group A, on the same day that anti-government protests took place in the heart of the city.
The protests were organised by a pro-monarchy group called 'Pitak Siam' (Protect Thailand), led by retired Army General Boonlert Kaewprasit, and were over the validity of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's rule, as well as over corruption and the alleged anti-monarchist stance of the government.
The Cabinet invoked the Internal Security Act in three areas of the city, allowing security forces greater authority, as protesters clashed with Thai Police.
Despite being one of the largest demonstrations in recent years with over 10,000 turning up and the threat of a State of Emergency looming, the preparations for the biennial AFF Cup were not affected, and both opening day matches held at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok played out smoothly.
The only direct effect of the protests was in the attendance for the matches, with the 80,000-seater stadium looking less than half-full as hosts Thailand overcame Philippines 2-1 in the second match of the night.
A star performance from Datsakorn Thonglao allowed the Thais to clinch full points against the Azkals who also had their coach dismissed late in the game.
Thailand, despite a lacklustre pre-tournament form, put on a satisfying performance for their German coach before going on a two-day break.
In the earlier match, Vietnam and Myanmar kicked off the tournament in entertaining fashion in a combative 1-1 draw.
Thailand topped Group A after the day's matches with Vietnam and Myanmar in joint second. All the Group A teams will be in action again on Tuesday with Thailand taking on Myanmar, and the Azkals hoping to get their campaign back on track against Vietnam.
Sunday, November 25, will see the Group B teams taking to the field in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Indonesia and Laos will open their campaign before the much-anticipated clash between rivals Singapore and Malaysia taking the main event slot later that same night.
Matchday 1 photos can be viewed here.