Shahril Ishak and V. Sundramoorthy endorse AFF Suzuki Cup changes

Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy and captain Shahril Ishak have endorsed the changes for next year's Suzuki Cup, with 10 nations playing home-and-away games in the group stage.

The new format was confirmed at last month's ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) council meeting in Bali.

Since its fourth edition in 2002, the biennial Southeast Asia tournament typically had two host countries for the group stages, with four teams in each group.

However, from 2018 onwards, two more nations will be added. They will still be divided into two groups, but each team will play two home and away games to determine the final four.

"It will be good for us to have home support for two games during the group stage at every edition," Sundramoorthy, who has been Lions coach since May 2016, told The New Paper ahead of Tuesday's Asian Cup qualifier in Turkmenistan.

"It will also be good for the fans to experience a major tournament on home soil once every two years.

"We have to wait and see the draw and fixtures list. Playing four games, two of them away, could mean less rest with the extra travelling, but it should be quite the same for all teams so it's up to us to manage."

Shahril, who has 134 caps, added, "This makes it a more level playing field for all teams, and there will no longer be home-ground advantage for just one team per group.

"As the competition is brought to every participating country, this should help increase the level of support and attendance.

"Hopefully, this will help attract more sponsors and add to the prestige of the competition."

It is believed that the new format is introduced to combat the poor attendances at the group matches, especially those which do not feature the hosts.

Singapore vice-captain Hariss Harun also shared his desire to see the Lions' Suzuki Cup home games staged at the 55,000-seat National Stadium, instead of the 6,500-capacity Jalan Besar Stadium.

"It will be great to play those games at the National Stadium," said the 26-year-old, who is on loan at Home United from Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).

"For footballers, there are few things comparable to playing in a big arena filled with supporters. It will be a great atmosphere for both the fans and the players."

Meanwhile, the group stage remains as a round-robin contest in which the top two progresses into the last four. And the semi-finals and final will continue in a home-and-away format.

Timor-Leste and Brunei, the two lowest-ranked sides amongst the 11 AFF nations, will play a two-legged qualifier on Sept. 3 and 11 next year to determine who joins the tournament proper from Nov. 8 to Dec. 15.

Having failed to make it beyond the group stages for the past two editions, Sundram believes his side can buck the trend in 2018.

"It's up to us. It's still a pretty level playing field at the ASEAN level," he said.

"At the last Suzuki Cup, we were competitive against supposedly stronger teams like the Philippines and Thailand, and were unfortunate not to get better results.

"On our day, we should be able to beat anyone from this region."