Vietnam in shape for AFF Cup defense: coach

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Coach Henrique Calisto believes his squad, the Vietnamese national football team, will not be swept aside in the group stage of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup that began on December 1-18.

Speaking to Thanh Nien last week, Calisto said he remains optimistic his positive although the team did not post good results in their recent friendlies (only two wins in their last 14 matches), not to mention defending the title without the team's best players.

The Portuguese tactician said the responsibility of being defending champs would make the players try harder. He said all the champions in the world undergo such situations and have to make great efforts to prove they deserve their titles.

He added all the rivals would try to beat the champions, and anticipates that even those that are not very strong would try to do their best against Vietnam, co-host of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2010.

Calisto said his job is to "help his players understand and avoid bad effects which could prevent the from going far."

Conceding that the recent poor results could have some psychological influence on his players, Calisto maintained it was not a real concern because the players know they need to focus on official tournaments like the AFF Cup.

He blamed the mediocre results in part on not having many good players to choose from. Many players suffered injuries and he had to call on new ones who need some time to fit in well with the squad.

Asked which rival would pose the biggest threat for Vietnam in the group stage, Calisto said Singapore and Myanmar would be the biggest rivals, adding that he would respect all teams. Even the team considered the weakest in the group, the Philippines, have improved their squad considerably, he said.

He said he had some understanding of the rivals in the group and was confident Vietnam would do well. The first or second place would depend very much on real situations, but Calisto said Vietnam's goal is to advance to the semifinals.

For now, it does not matter whether Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia would be Vietnam's rivals in the semifinals, he said.

Calisto reiterated his confidence that the Vietnamese squad would go beyond the group stage because they had prepared very well for the biennial tournament.

Meanwhile, both Laos and Indonesia got their campaigns off to a flying start, with the former holding regional powerhouse Thailand to a 2-2 draw; and Indonesia thumping Malaysia 5-1 despite conceding the first goal.

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