Singapore issue opening statement but Thailand remain the team to beat

SINGAPORE -- Following a year's delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 kicked off amid fanfare on Sunday as FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended the opening ceremony at Singapore's National Stadium.

After the festivities, however, it was host nation Singapore who made the biggest statement out of the four teams in action.

- Two-goal Ikhsan ready for tougher tests after Singapore's strong start
- Polking pleased with Thailand's opening win but expects improvement
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Looking to advance past the group stage for the first time since winning the tournament in 2012, Singapore had a perfect start with a 3-0 win over Myanmar.

In a dominant first-half display, the Lions took the lead off Safuwan Baharudin's 34th-minute header before Ikhsan Fandi's two quick goals gave Tatsuma Yoshida's side an advantage they were never in danger of relinquishing.

Despite the positives, there is still reason for the Singapore faithful to remain grounded -- a sentiment Yoshida echoed after the victory as he reiterated his pre-tournament stance of taking it one game at a time.

The Lions were worthy winners. That much is without doubt. But the result comes with the caveat that it was against a Myanmar outfit missing a number of key players and severely lacking match practice with their domestic league on hiatus due to the pandemic since last October.

Tougher tests will follow starting with Wednesday's meeting with the Philippines, who were the one team in Group A not in action on opening night and boast an impressive record of having reached the semifinals in four of the past five Suzuki Cups.

Barring major mishaps, their third match against minnows Timor-Leste should also reap three points. Singapore's most daunting task comes in their final group game against record five-time champions Thailand.

Thailand got the tournament underway earlier on Sunday with a 2-0 triumph over the Timorese. The relatively narrow margin of victory raised a few eyebrows given the Thais won 7-0 when both teams last met in the 2018 edition.

But as Thailand coach Alexandre Polking said after the match, this is a War Elephants outfit that can still improve.

Star men Chanathip Songkrasin and Theerathon Bunmathan are both on their way to join up with the team, having completed their club commitments in the J1 League with Consadole Sapporo and Yokohama F. Marinos respectively at the weekend.

Despite lethargic displays in their win over Timor-Leste, Thailand claimed max points without ever getting out of second gear and are only to going to find more rhythm as the tournament wears on.

As thing stand, Thailand remain the team to beat in Group A.

Singapore will get the chance to do that in a fortnight, and have done their chances of making that tie an outright duel for top spot no harm at all after an impressive opening-night performance.