Co-hosts Thailand were yesterday drawn to meet Vietnam at the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup in a repeat of the 2008 final.
The other two teams in Group A, to be played at Rajamangala and Supachalasai stadiums in Bangkok, are fast-improving Philippines and the first-placed qualifiers in the November 24-December 22 Southeast Asian championship.
Fellow co-hosts Malaysia look to have a tougher assignment in the biennial tournament as the defending champions will face 2010 beaten finalists Indonesia and arch-rivals Singapore with the other team in Group B being the second-placed qualifiers.
Three-time champions Thailand, who were eliminated in the first round in the previous edition in 2010, lost 3-2 on aggregate to Vietnam in the Cup decider four years ago.
Vietnam and the Philippines were drawn together in the 2010 tournament with both qualifying for the knockout stages at the expense of three-time winners Singapore and Myanmar.
Thailand coach Winfried Schaefer said it was crucial for his team to prepare well for the Suzuki Cup.
“It is a very interesting draw and I am looking forward to the tournament,” said the German. “All the teams are very strong and there are no clear favourites.”
Schaefer added: “I have seen both Vietnam and the Philippines play and they are very strong. We have to train really hard and prepare well for the tournament so we can put a good team on the field.
“This tournament is very important for me and Thailand. We’re trying to make it to the final.”
Malaysia coach K Rajagobal, who steered the Tigers to victory in 2010, was upbeat about the draw.
“It is a really interesting draw,” he said.
“We are in the same group as Indonesia. I think it is good for our nation. It is going to be electrifying. I am excited about the challenge. Indonesia and Singapore are strong teams.
“My first priority is to go to the knockout stages. We want to do well but I cannot guarantee anything. But the mind-set must be that we want to be there [champions] again.”
Malaysia defeated Indonesia 4-2 on aggregate two years ago to be crowned kings of Asean football for the first time.
The group phase will be played from November 24-December 1 with Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Timor Leste competing in a single round-robin qualifying group in Yangon, Myanmar from October 5-13.
The semi-finals will be held on December 8/9 (first leg) and December 12/13 (second leg) with the home-and-away final on December 19 and December 22.