Reigning champions prepare to defend AFF Cup title

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Việt Nam national women’s football team training before the 31st SEA Games. The team began a training camp on May 30 in Hà Nội ahead of the AFF Cup in July. — VNA/VNS Photo

HÀ NỘI — The national women’s football team gathered to train on May 30 in preparation for the AFF Cup, which will take place in July in the Philippines.

Coach Mai Đức Chung has called 28 players to join the one-month camp in Hà Nội, before they travel to France at the invitation of the French Football Federation from June 27 to July 2. They will play a friendly against the French national side, who are ranked third in the world, on July 1.

They will then fly to the Philippines to defend their regional title from July 2-14.

Việt Nam are in Group B with Myanmar, Timor Leste, Cambodia and Laos.

Group A includes three-time AFF women’s champions and Southeast Asian Games runner-up Thailand, as well as Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and the hosts.

Australia rejoins the AFF Cup after four years. In 2018, they sent the U20 team and finished second after losing 3-2 to Thailand in the final.

This year, it is not clear whether Australia will send their strongest side or the youth team to the Filipino event.

Teams will compete in a round-robin format at Binan Football Stadium in Binan City and Imus City Grandstand in Imus, Cavite. The best two teams of each group will advance to the semi-finals.

Although Việt Nam, who won the seventh SEA Games title on May 21, are confident they can get out of their group, coach Mai Đức Chung is still careful when talking about rivals.

“Việt Nam are a little lucky with this draw. However, no matter how easy it is, we must be focused, especially since we are the defending champions. Our first target is to advance to the second stage,” Chung said.

“Teams in Group B are at the same level. We have to make a plan for each of them, not only for the group round but also for the semi-finals, where we will likely meet Thailand or Australia.”

Meanwhile, coach Alen Stajcic of the hosts is excited to battle the best teams in the region in front of a home crowd, as he leaves no stone unturned in preparation for their historic 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup debut.

“We are looking forward to playing in front of our home fans and against the best teams in Southeast Asia,” Stajcic was quoted as saying on inquirer.net. “Another great opportunity for this team to be tested so that we can learn, grow and improve.” — VNS

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