BLOG: Dissecting the coaches of Group B
As the action in Group B kicks off today, the region's media yesterday got to see the coaches from all four teams talk about their sides' chances, in a pre-tournament press conference at the M Hotel, where the teams are based.
So, what did we learn from this assembly of some of the top coaching minds in south-east Asia?
THE ONE WHO'S DONE IT ALL
It was odd for the assembled media representatives, particularly those from Singapore, to hear Raddy Avramovic refer to his team as "we". The "we" now are Myanmar, not the Lions.
The 64-year-old Serb, of course, coached Singapore to three Suzuki Cup triumphs, in 2004, 2007 and 2012.
But he is now trying to weave his magic with unfancied Myanmar, whose best showing in the Suzuki Cup was a fourth-placed finish in 2004 (when they lost to Avramovic's Singapore in the semi-finals).
As the most successful coach in the history of the tournament, Avramovic was understandably in relaxed mode.
He brushed aside questions about his achievements with Singapore, saying "that's in the past, it's already gone".
And he added that he is looking forward to break Singapore's, Thailand's and Malaysia's dominance in the region over the past two decades.
He was in the mood to even talk about how he hoped Malaysia coach Dollah Salleh is "as good a coach as he was a player", when asked what he thought about coming up against the Malaysian who has been in the job for only five months.
Unburdened by the pressure of winning, Raddy might just lead his dark horses out of this so-called "Group of Death".
THE ONE WHO'S UNDER PRESSURE
Donning an official Football Association of Malaysia blazer and tie, Tigers coach Dollah Salleh was the most formally dressed of the four coaches.
But he's probably the most relaxed of the lot.
Just minutes after the press conference ended, he was spotted outside the hotel shooting the breeze with Malaysian journalists over a cigarette.
And when he later shared a lift with me, I commented on his remarkable calmness. He responded with his trademark smile, and said: "Must relax, lah. Why be so stressed?"
Make no mistake, though. Dollah is under pressure to deliver.
Since taking over in June, the Tigers have lost four out of five international friendlies.
The coach himself brought up the unflattering statistic a number of times when he had the mic in his hands.
But could he be playing possum?
While he is a greenhorn at international level, Dollah is by no means a rookie.
He has won the prestigious Malaysia Cup thrice as a coach - each time with a different team - and his 48 goals in 97 appearances for Malaysia suggest he knows what it takes to deliver at this level.
With players missing out through injuries and his strikers misfiring at their clubs throughout the year, some say the Tigers' chances of making the semi-finals are slim at best.
Maybe that's just the way Dollah likes it.
THE ONE WHO'S OUT TO IMPRESS
After his team's training session at the Jurong West Stadium on Friday, I told Singapore coach Bernd Stange it would be interesting to see how he manages his team in their first tournament under him.
After all, most local media have only known Raddy Avramovic's Lions, and are familiar with the guidelines he has for the team when they are centralised at hotels during tournaments.
Stange responded with a knowing smile: "This is my first tournament with Singapore... But it is not my first tournament, my friend."
The 66-year-old German suggested that, with his experience coaching sides like Hertha Berlin and Belarus, he knows exactly how to get his team into competition mode.
At yesterday's press conference, he was on a charm offensive, answering questions with his usual smile and repeating how he is confident the home support can lift his charges.
He also talked the talk, declaring he was not afraid of tournament favourites Thailand.
Now, he has to walk the walk.
The Suzuki Cup is Stange's biggest assignment since taking over the national team in May 2013.
He oversaw an unsuccessful Asian Cup qualifying campaign, watched as an advisor as Aide Iskandar led the Under-23 team to the SEA Games bronze medal, and was sidelined by Chikungunya virus when he was supposed to lead the Asian Games team in September.
Sure, in August he led a Singapore Selection side (which includes three foreign imports from S.League teams) against Italian giants Juventus at the National Stadium in front of 25,000 spectators.
But we expect more than 40,000 fans to turn up to watch his team against the Thais tonight. They will be eager to see just what difference Stange, after preaching his brand of high-pressing, one-touch attacking football, has made in his 16 months in charge.
Talk about pressure.
THE ONE WHO DIDN'T EXPECT TO BE THERE
Not many in Singapore know who Klairung Treejaksung is, but they might now.
The Thai assistant coach faced the press in place of head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang, who was nursing a sore throat.
All the coaches at the press conference were full of smiles as they exchanged niceties, but Klairung, wearing a casual tracksuit, seemed the most at ease.
Perhaps, as his name did not carry the weight of the legendary Kiatisuk, the media did not care too much for his answers.
He only spoke during the opening moments of the press conference - and through a translator - saying that the Thais were not getting carried away with talk that they would canter to the title.
But when TNP chatted with him after the press conference ended, he seemed to understand our questions just fine.
In fact, he even spoke a few words of English as he and his translator attempted to get their points across to us.
Maybe Klairung felt it wasn't worth the effort to try and answer in English.
After all, as a teammate of Kiatisuk's and a part of the legendary Thai "Dream Team" that ruled the region for a decade from 1993, he knows that the best place to do your talking is on the pitch.
And even though he spoke few words, Klairung made sure this much was clear: This current team, whose average age is just 24.1, have the potential to emulate him and his teammates to become "the second Dream Team".
Singapore, you have been warned.