THE Philippines need to play its A-game if it wants to beat Thailand in the AFF Suzuki Cup.
In their final match before heading to the country for the region's biggest football competition, the Thais battled Australia to a 2-2 draw in the third round of the Fifa World Cup Asian qualifiers at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok on Tuesday.
Teerasil Dangda scored twice for Thailand, the only Southeast Asian country standing in the qualifiers for the 2018 Russian edition.
With the impressive showing by the Thais against the Aussies, the Azkals need to elevate their game further if they want to advance to the semifinals for the fourth straight time.
The Philippines is bunched with Thailand and Singapore, the two most successful teams in AFF Suzuki Cup history, and Indonesia, which is coming back from a FIFA-imposed suspension, in an exciting Group A.
The Thais, the reigning champions, the and Singaporeans have both won the event a record four times.
The Indonesians, after a period in the international wilderness, have also been drawn in the same intimidating group, with the Azkals.
In the semifinals, the Philippines lost to Indonesia in 2010, Singapore in 2012, and most recently to Thailand two years ago.
Action in Group A will begin on Saturday at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan, with the Azkals taking on the Singaporeans and the Thais playing the Indonesians.
“It is a very tough group,” said Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang.
“Singapore has a strong squad, the Philippines is constantly improving and will be on home soil, and Indonesia is coming back and are an unknown quantity,” he added.
After the Singaporeans, the Azkals will play the Indonesians on Nov. 22 before wrapping up their group stage campaign against the Thais on Nov. 25.
The Group B matches, which will feature host Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam and the winner of the Cambodia qualifier, will start on Sunday in Yangon.
Rizal Memorial Stadium, which played host to AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final matches in 2012 and 2014, will host the simultaneous match between the Singaporeans and the Indonesians, on Nov. 25.
The Philippines is coming off a 1-0 win over Kyrgyzstan in the team's final internationak friendly last week.