THIS year’s edition of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers of the event said while they lament the unfortunate development they look to staging the championship in its full format next year.

Originally set for November to December this year, the biennial regional football meet is now to be played from April 11 to May 8. It is hoped that by the time some clarity and improvement have been achieved as regards to the situation with the pandemic.

The AFF said the latest decision was taken with a firm intention to stage the championship in its full format — played on a home-and-away basis across the qualifying nations in Southeast Asia.

The decision was also arrived at after consultation with the region’s football federations and other relevant authorities, believing the new dates for the tournament are suited to accommodate the domestic football schedules, and give organizers enough time to monitor the situation closely to ensure the safety and well-being of all players, coaches, partners, fans and the public. 

“We are delighted with the positive support that we have had from our member associations and that we have been able to find a suitable window next year to hold our most highly anticipated tournament. While we are well aware that the fight against the global pandemic is not over, we are cautiously optimistic for the AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 to take place in its full format as we hope to deliver the best of ASEAN in the tournament next year,” said AFF President, Major General Khiev Sameth in a statement.

Adding, “The AFF also hopes that the announcement of the 2021 tournament dates will provide some clarity in planning for our commercial partners, including sponsors and media broadcasters, at a time of uncertainty. AFF and our member associations would like to express gratitude to all our fans, players, coaches, officials, media and other partners for their unwavering support and commitment despite these challenging times, and look forward to the AFF Suzuki Cup unifying the whole of Southeast Asia when we are able to come together again.

The Philippines has been doing well in the tournament, being a semifinalist in four of the last five editions of the Suzuki Cup. In 2018, the Azkals, then coached by Sven Goran-Eriksson, returned to the Final Four after missing it in the previous edition. They barged into the semifinals by finishing second in its grouping in group play before bowing to eventual champion Vietnam in the two-leg semis, 4-2, in aggregate.

The team recently extended the tenure of current coach Scott Cooper, who vowed to help the team “as it continues to make its mark in Asian and world football.” — Michael Angelo S. Murillo