ASEAN Football Federation’s premier tournament just got assigned a new set of dates amidst the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AFF announced that the competition shall now take place from December 5, 2021, to January 1, 2022. It will involve the home-and-away format for the group stages and knockouts, which began in the 2018 edition of the tourney.
“As always, our first priority is the health and safety of everyone connected with the event. As such, we have been monitoring Covid-19 developments, both within ASEAN and in the wider world, on a continuous basis,” said AFF president Major General Khiev Sameth.
“While there have been encouraging results in vaccine development, we are cognisant that the process of vaccine approval, as well as the practicalities of the distribution and implementation of vaccine programs across the world, including ASEAN, will take some time.”
Last September 25, 2020, the AFF stated that the competition would take place from April 11 to May 8, 2021. However, since Southeast Asia is only starting to recover from the coronavirus disease by this time, holding the competition by the second quarter of next year in its full glory is too optimistic.
“Given the complexities around the organization of the event, and the many people and organizations that are impacted by it, the AFF believes in taking a pragmatic approach and making a considered decision early that will allow the stakeholders in the event to have enough notice to reorganize their activities – and so that planning for the end of the year can be focused around the AFF Suzuki Cup as a great occasion for football in the region as it has always been,” said Sameth.
One thing that must be noted, though, is that the new schedule for the tournament shall give the AFF members food for thought as the 2021 SEA Games hosted in Vietnam is penciled to take place from November 21, 2021, to December 2, 2021.
While the SEA Games is an under-23 competition for the men’s division and the Suzuki Cup is for a nation’s senior team, players who may have been qualified to play in both tournaments may be forced to only compete in one.
“Looking at the crowded football schedule for 2021, including both international as well as domestic events which have been held over from 2020, also makes hosting our tournament in December an ideal time,” said Sameth.
“The new dates, starting on December 5 and running into January 1, 2022, will provide the best opportunity for the event to be staged in its full format with home and away fixtures in both the group and knockout stages, and with stadiums filled with fans to encourage and celebrate their teams.”
Assuming that the competition will finally be played, the Philippines hopes to win the championship for the first time in its history after finishing in the semi-finals again back in 2018.