Myanmar coach Velizar Popov on semis wildcard chase between U22 Azkals, Cambodia, Malaysia: 'Let the best team go'

Myanmar coach Velizar Popov said that the U22 Azkals "have pretty good chances" to join his team in the SEA Games semis. Jojo Lirio (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

BINAN--Myanmar booked the first semifinal seat in the Southeast Asian Games men's football tournament on Monday night with a comeback win against Cambodia at the Binan Football Stadium.

But despite Myanmar getting away from a potential long logjam for the two semis spots, the said deadlock remains as three teams, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the U22 Azkals, now have to put up their best effort to snag the other semifinal berth for Group A.

It will all boil down to the final day of the Group A matches on Wednesday in simultaneous 4 p.m. kick-offs.

The U22 Azkals will host also-ran Timor Leste here, while Cambodia and Malaysia will face off at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.

Velizar Popov, the Burmese coach, believes that either the U22 Azkals, Cambodia, or Malaysia deserves to be in the Final Four.

"Cambodia really impressed me so much with their game plan and style of play. I really like how they play," Popov said of Cambodia.

Cambodia actually had a chance to place one foot into the semis after Sin Sophanat drew first blood for the team in the 21st minute.

Myanmar survived after Lwin Moe Aung's 27th minute equalizer and Aung Kaung Mann's 86th minute game winning header.

Popov then said of the Azkals, "The Philippines is playing very good in the tournament so far."

Despite losing in their meeting on Nov. 27 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, the U22 Azkals held Myanmar to just two goals, although Myanmar's last goal from Win Naing Tun turned out to be the decider as he broke a 1-1 halftime tie with a 79th minute strike.

The U22 Azkals then bounced back with a 1-0 win against Malaysia, the first time the Philippine team beat Malaysia in the SEA Games since 1991.

And with cellar dwelling Timor Leste up next, the U22 Azkals have the "easier" schedule on paper.

"With Timor [next in their] last match, I think they have pretty good chances to be there," Popov added.

However, winning is not everything for the U22 Azkals as their fate also lies on the Cambodia-Malaysia match.

The U22 Azkals need to beat Timor Leste by a huge margin and hope that the Cambodia-Malaysia game ends up in a down the wire finish--or better yet, a draw--to make the semis.

A draw or a loss to Timor Leste will eliminate the U22 Azkals since they have the least goal difference among them, Cambodia, and Malaysia.

Malaysia, however, is Popov's personal preference to enter the semis.

"If I need to listen to my heart, it's Malaysia because I worked there and I have so many friends there," Popov, who coached Malaysian club Kelantan in 2016, bared who he would rather see in the playoffs.

Malaysia bolstered its semifinal bid in a huge way with a 4-0 rout of Timor Leste in Manila.

With all of these, he believes that the Wednesday matches will be wild.

"All the three teams have equal chances, and let the best team go," Popov concluded.

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