|The Azkals may have to wait a little longer before they can finally return to action. Jan Dayrit (file photo)|
MANILA--Southeast Asia's biggest football prize will still not be given away very soon.
The ASEAN Football Federation announced on Monday night that the AFF Suzuki Cup has been postponed anew to December next year.
This means that the said tournament, which should have been ongoing right now if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, would go one full year of postponement.
“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. While there have been encouraging results in vaccine development, we are cognizant 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,” AFF president Khiev Sameth said.
The Suzuki Cup was initially postponed to April next year, but by that time, only a few countries would have already received doses of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Sameth also said that the anticipated resumption of footballing events initially scheduled this year also factored in the second postponement.
"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," he added.
The current format of the Suzuki Cup would see the participating teams playing through a home and away format from the group stages to the finals.
The latest rescheduling could assure that the matches may be opened to the general public as by December, many people may have already been vaccinated.
"The new dates, starting on Dec. 5 and running into Jan. 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," Sameth further said.
Prior to the rescheduling, the Philippine Football Federation was looking at the possibility of bringing at least the core of the Azkals Development Team plus some senior Azkals from the PFL and Thai League 1 clubs to the national team for the AFF Suzuki Cup should the event start by April 11.
With the new dates set, the PFF's plans are expected to change, although the ADT could still make up the Azkals' nucleus since the Suzuki Cup usually falls on dates not within the FIFA international break, which means clubs are not required to send off their players for national team duties.
Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno