TNP's Suzuki Cup predictions
The AFF Suzuki Cup is about kick off and The New Paper team is putting their necks out with their predictions for the tournament.
The big question - who's going to win it?
DAVID LEE: Vietnam. Not a lot is known about the Viets, but they seem to have successfully rebuilt a team after the 2012 disaster and are now a force to be reckoned with.
GABRIEL TAN: We've seen in the past how the favourites don't always deliver but I think Thailand will nab it this year. The heart says Singapore, but the head thinks Kiatisuk's young boys will have too much quality.
GARY LIM: Thailand. Any south-east Asian team that reaches the Asian Games semis are a force to be reckoned with. They are a level above everyone else. The rest will need a massive dose of luck to deny them the title.
SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ: Thailand. They just seem too good in comparison with every other team at the moment. Having said that, the Lions have made a habit of proving critics wrong. So, if I could pick a second favourite, it'd have to be Singapore!
SHAMIR OSMAN: It seems like pre-tournament favourites Thailand are not going to just win it, but cruise to the title. Unlike other times in the past, they aren't just good on paper, but have proven themselves in the field, at the Asian Games, no less. Their pace and game intensity will be a hard act to follow – or even just keep up with.
Which team is going to disappoint?
DL: Malaysia. With the exception of an unexpected win over Yemen, the Tigers have looked a spent force all year.
GT: Malaysia. I feel preparations haven't been ideal for Dollah Salleh with a number of injuries at the back. Defensively, they look vulnerable and the strikers aren't exactly firing on all cylinders either.
GL: Honestly, Singapore - and I hope they will prove me wrong. Nobody should be complaining if the Lions get knocked out in the last four. Having said that, I gave them zero chance of winning the 2012 edition too.
SA: Malaysia. I like Dollah Salleh - he's as cool as they come - but the players he has selected don't seem inspired to do something special this tournament. His strikers aren't firing, he's missing livewire winger R Gopinathan and defensive lynchpin Aidil Zafuan is also out with injury.
SO: In the lead up to the tournament, Philippines haven't had much to shout about, besides a 3-0 win over Cambodia. There have been mutterings of unrest in the Azkals' dressing room, and a fractured team often comes apart on the pitch.
Who are your dark horses?
DL: Myanmar are worth a punt simply because of three-time winner Raddy Avramovic's tactical nous.
GT: Vietnam. They've gone under the radar a little so far in all the pre-tournament talk, but I think home advantage will be enough to see them through the group stage. Once it reaches the knockout round, it's anyone's game, really.
GL: Malaysia. Nobody expects them to do well. But when Harimau Muda A took part in the S.League not too long ago, they didn't fare too badly, did they? They showed the kind of quality they have in the country. It's just a matter of getting their act together for a few weeks.
SA: Vietnam. I expect them to win Group A at a canter, and the confidence they'll no doubt get from battering the likes of Laos and possibly, an average-looking Philippines side, could put them in good stead for the knockout rounds.
SO: While they are former champions, Vietnam have gone about their business relatively under the radar. Their brand of fast-paced football will likely see them come through Group A unscathed, and if there is a team that can beat the Thais, it will be Vietnam.
Any surprise packages (player or team) in mind?
DL: Indonesia's Uruguay-born striker Cristian Gonzalez is still banging them in at 38, and he could well turn out to be this edition's Aleksandar Duric.
GT: I don't think they'll ultimately advance to the semis but I believe both Myanmar and Laos can cause quite a few problems to their opponents. The teams entering through the qualifiers have traditionally struggled but I feel the gap between the big guns and the so-called 'smaller' sides is closing fast.
As for an individual, I'm backing Shukor Adan to make a mockery of his increasing years by being one of Malaysia's best players.
GL: Again, Malaysia. I hope Ramly Burger notices this and start sponsoring my betting columns.
SA: I think Gary Robbat can cement his spot as Malaysia's top central midfielder, as midfield general Safiq Rahim is struggling with injury and captain Shukor Adan could be deployed in defence.
SO: While not quite at the us-against-the-world levels that were present at the 2012 Suzuki Cup, this Singapore team is already closing ranks, and taking ownership of their title-defence campaign. That kind of unity can take a team further than the sum of its parts. The Lions are unheralded this time out, but this young team has it in them to surprise.
Who's going to win the top scorer award?
DL: Thailand's Adisak Kraisorn. Any player with a record like four goals in three caps is bound to get me excited.
GT: Thailand's Adisak Kraisorn. He's not the kind of striker that does a lot in the build-up but he only needs one chance to hurt you. Five goals at the Asian Games was not a bad tally either.
GL: Maybe a midfielder/playmaker. The game has evolved.
SA: Of course, this depends on how far a team can go. But Singapore's own Khairul Amri is in some of the best form of his life, so he must be in the reckoning. I like Thailand's Adisak Kraisorn, but I think he could be rotated upfront. Vietnam's Mac Hong Quan is in with a shout too.
SO: Thailand's style of play will see them fashion several chances in front of goal, with Adisak Kraisorn likely to be the main beneficiary. He is in good form going into the tournament, and could well end with the golden boot in his hands.
Who will be crowned MVP?
DL: I hope for once Singapore go far while goalkeeper Hassan Sunny is in top form. Too many times has he performed without able support from his teammates.
GT: Hassan Sunny of Singapore. If the Lions do go all the way, I believe Hassan would have had to play his part in denying some of the region's best strikers. Winning the Suzuki Cup MVP would be a perfect way to cap off the year after becoming an S.League champion and winning the Player of the Year award.
GL: I hope it'll be Hassan Sunny, because that would mean Singapore are doing well.
SA: Going with my prediction that Thailand will win the tournament, possibly classy midfielder Charyl Chappuis.
SO: Charyl Chappuis and Chanathip Songkrasin are massive players for Thailand, and they will excite out on the pitch. If they perform at the levels that they are capable of, they'll be right up there with the best of them. But you can never really tell now, can you?
Who has a massive tournament ahead of him?
DL: It's time for Singapore's Class of '92 - Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman, Shakir Hamzah, Faris Ramli, Shahfiq Ghani and Sahil Suhaimi - to show that they can take over the baton from the Batch of '84.
GT: I always look out for players who have proven their ability to cope on the big stage. Khairul Amri is one of the first that comes to mind, but I'm also excited to see how Chanathip Songkrasin, Nguyen Van Quyet and Patrick Reichelt fare.
GL: All the referees. What do you expect? This is the AFF Championship.
SA: Singapore's Hassan Sunny. He has waited so long to be a key part of the Lions team and he's worked hard to get it. Singapore's hopes will depend on how well he performs.
SO: With the kind of form that Hassan Sunny is showing, the goalkeeper will important for the Lions. One thing is for sure, the Warriors FC custodian is pumped up for the tourney, having missed the last one through injury. He is shaping up to be a mammoth between the Singapore sticks.
Who are you looking forward to watching the most?
DL: Thailand's Adisak Kraisorn. Any player with a record like four goals in three caps is bound to get me excited. I'm so excited I have to repeat myself.
GT: Without a doubt, Shahril Ishak, especially since we've been deprived of watching him regularly this year.
Besides him, it's hard to go past Chanathip, who is a breath of fresh air and can really produce scintillating football.
GL: Not a player, but Myanmar coach Raddy Avramovic. Just to see if he can work his magic even with Myanmar.
SA: Singapore's Hassan Sunny. He has waited so long to be a key part of the Lions team, worked hard to get it, and Singapore's hopes will depend on how well he performs.
SO: Without a doubt, Chanathip Songkrasin. He has shown at the Asian Games that he has an immaculate touch, and an uncanny ability to see space and spot a team mate even in tight situations. It will be a joy to watch him up close, and find out for myself just why they call him Messi Jay.
And finally, how are the Lions going to fare?
DL: Let's just will them on to the semi-finals first, and then anything can happen from there. I don't see them topping the Thais but Myanmar and Malaysia are beatable opposition.
GT: I am confident we'll get through the group stage and we could even make it past the last four. Once we reach the final, it will be tough regardless of who we play but we've played our best football with our backs against the wall.
GL: If I say any more, I will be banned from the stadium indefinitely.
SA: My heart obviously wants us to win the fifth title, but my head says we will go no further than the semi-finals, where we will likely meet Vietnam. I'm praying it won't be the case, but it looks like there could be a repeat of the heartbreak of 2010.
SO: A spot in the final isn't too far-fetched a hope, but it all really depends on which Lions team shows up. The class of 2014 is one of those strange teams that could either go the distance, or fall flat at the first hurdle. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.