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The Much-Too-Early 2022 AFF Championship predictions

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2022 AFF Championship draw delivers tasty clashes between rivals (1:10)

The draw for the 2022 AFF Championship has pitted rivals Singapore and Malaysia against one another, as well as delivering a 2020 final rematch between Thailand and Indonesia. (1:10)

The 2022 AFF Championship moved a significant step closer on Tuesday afternoon with the completion of the draw for the competition, which will take place from Dec. 20 to Jan. 16.

There are already plenty of mouthwatering ties to look forward to, with the clear standout a rematch of the 2020 decider in Group A between record six-time champions Thailand and perennial runners-up Indonesia, who have reached the final on six occasions without ever tasting glory.

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Group B is also set to be highly competitive with three former winners -- Singapore (1998, 2004, 2007, 2012), Malaysia (2010) and Vietnam (2008, 2018) -- vying for two semifinal berths.

With four months still to go before Southeast Asia's premier international tournament gets underway, there is still plenty that could happen between now and then.

But given it is never too early to start assessing the field, here are some predictions -- admittedly coming far too early -- on all 11 challengers.

BRUNEI DARUSSALAM

The lowest-ranked in the ASEAN Football Federation, Brunei Darussalam have not featured at the tournament since its inaugural edition back in 1996, where they claimed their first-and-only win over then-minnows Philippines.

While the nation's best players previously gained valuable experience playing for Brunei DPMM -- who have plied their trade overseas in the Malaysia Super League and Singapore Premier League -- the club have been restricted to competing domestically since the start of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They will have to see off Timor-Leste in a qualifying playoff on Nov. 5 and 15 if they are to advance to the tournament proper. Even then, it is hard to see them going much further.

Much-too-early prediction: The big surprise would be if Brunei, who do have some bright talent but just have not had enough experience, even qualify for the tournament. Their journey is likely to end in the playoff.

CAMBODIA

Cambodia have made shown signs of progress under Japanese legend Keisuke Honda, who is remarkably juggling a playing career that is still ongoing in Europe with his coaching aspirations in Southeast Asia.

Still, the Cambodians are yet to really bridge the gap between them and the region's elite, as shown in the most recent edition when they comfortably beat Laos but were no match for Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

There are signs that some of their mid-tier counterparts are making strides forward at age-group level, which makes it imperative that Cambodia either consolidate their current standing in the region or look to the future by blooding more young talent.

Much-too-early prediction: Cambodia should be able to pick up at least a win against the team qualifying via the playoff, but will probably fail to mount a top-two challenge. Anything better than their three-point haul from last time out can be viewed as a success.

INDONESIA

Brimming with some exciting young talent, and having surpassed expectations in reaching the final of the delayed 2020 edition, Indonesia will head into this year's tournament expecting to at least reach the final once more -- especially with ex-South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong still at the helm.

With some of their star men playing in Europe, it remains to be seen how strong a team Merah-Putih will boast given the tournament does not coincide with a FIFA international window.

At their strongest when the likes of Witan Sulaeman, Egy Maulana and Asnawi Mangkualam are all present, the Indonesians can definitely challenge once again. Should they be missing their big guns, there is the danger they could be slightly one-dimensional.

Much-too-early prediction: Indonesia should be qualifying for the semis at the very least. There is however a sneaky feeling they could be at risk if they do not boast their full complement of key players, although the draw has been slightly kind with Philippines looking the only other team that could perhaps pip them to a top-two berth.

LAOS

For so long one of the whipping boys of the region, Laos are suddenly starting to show they could mean business in a few years' time.

After beginning 2022 by sharing the bronze medal with Timor-Leste at the AFF U-23 Championship, the Laotians then followed up by finishing runners-up at the U-19 equivalent in July.

A significant number of those youngsters have already been blooded at senior level by coach Michael Weiss, who has done some good things in previous stints in charge of developing teams such as Philippines and Mongolia.

Much-too-early prediction: This year's tournament could just come too soon for an inexperienced but exciting Laos outfit, although it should not be too much of a surprise if they cause much more problems for the big boys than they previously have.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia are one team that will be looking to make amends after failing to advance out of the group stage of the 2020 edition, despite having reached the final just two years prior.

A coaching change soon followed with Kim Pan-gon taking over from Tan Cheng Hoe, and the South Korean has already made an immediate impact by guiding Harimau Malaya to qualification for a first AFC Asian Cup appearance since they were co-hosts in 2007.

More improvement will be expected from Malaysia's ever-demanding supporters and there is plenty of talent at Kim's disposal, even if one concern is their lack of rejuvenation with only a handful of players -- including excitement machine Arif Aiman -- below the age of 25.

Much-too-early prediction: Group B is already looking to be the tougher of the two. Malaysia will be backing themselves to reach the last four, but it could go down to a final-day duel with Causeway derby rivals Singapore on Jan. 2.

MYANMAR

For all the strides Myanmar made in second half of the 2010s, when they reached the AFF Championship semis in 2016 along with two medal finishes in three Southeast Asian Games, the past couple of years have been forgettable.

Plenty of their recent decline is down to a stagnating domestic football scene, which has not been helped by some of the far bigger, non-sporting issues the country is dealing with.

Like many of their counterparts, the raw talent has been and will always be there. Which Myanmar outfit shows up is always going to be the bigger question.

Much-too-early prediction: While Myanmar have shown an ability to punch above their weight, the current crop do lack the firepower of the side from a few years ago, when Aung Thu, Kyaw Ko Ko and Yan Aung Kyaw were all at the peak of their powers. A group-stage elimination is highly likely.

PHILIPPINES

Like Indonesia, much of Philippines' potential success will ride on how many of their Europe-based players will be made available for the tournament.

Already, it seems unlikely that Gerrit Holtmann of Bundesliga outfit Bochum will be released, as well as veteran goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

Upheaval in the dugout has also not been ideal for the Azkals, who reappointed Thomas Dooley as coach back in May after previously parting ways with him in unceremonious circumstances after he had guided them to a maiden Asian Cup appearance.

Much-too-early prediction: After being firmly on the rise with five semifinal appearances in six editions of the AFF Championship between 2010 to 2018, Philippines now have plenty to prove once again. They could still return to the last four this year, but it will require an upset over either Thailand or Indonesia -- neither of which seems likely at the moment.

SINGAPORE

Singapore gained many admirers for their brave charge to the semifinals of the last AFF Championship, even almost pulling off an upset over Indonesia to reach the final despite having to play with eight men.

Unfortunately for them, their success saw coach Tatsuma Yoshida lured back to his home country of Japan by J2 League outfit Ventforet Kofu, and his successor -- compatriot Takayuki Nishigaya -- is yet to have a chance to show what he can bring to the Lions.

Having shown much improvement last time out, after missing out on the semis in three previous editions, the pressure will now be on Singapore to maintain their spot in the region's top four at the very least.

Much-too-early prediction: The Lions have what it takes to feature in the semis. Again, it might boil down to whether or not they can get one over archenemies Malaysia in their final match, although it is imperative they do not unnecessarily drop points prior to that.

THAILAND

As the defending champions, few will be betting against Thailand retaining their title -- at least this far ahead of the tournament.

Quite simply, after having their crown snatched away by Vietnam between for a couple of years, the War Elephants have now established themselves as kings of Southeast Asia once again.

A vastly talented and experienced squad -- headlined by three-time AFF Championship Most Valuable Player Chanathip Songkrasin -- should be at the peak of their powers in 2022, led by one of the brightest managerial minds in Asian football in Alexandre Polking.

Much-too-early prediction: As far as much-too-early predictions go, this is the most straightforward. Thailand to win the 2022 AFF Championship.

TIMOR-LESTE

The role of Timor-Leste, the youngest nation in all of the AFF, at the tournament may have previously been to hand out three points and a goal-difference boost, but there is an increasing suspicion that will not be the case for much longer.

With the exception of a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Philippines, the Timorese gave an excellent account of themselves at the last edition in three creditable 2-0 defeats to Thailand, Myanmar and Singapore.

More recently, Timor-Leste also reached the semifinals of the AFF U-23 Championship -- going unbeaten against Cambodia, Philippines and Brunei -- to suggest they could soon be breaking into the region's mid-tier.

Much-too-early prediction: Timor-Leste still have to get past Brunei in order to secure a third consecutive appearance at the AFF Championship, and they should get the job done. From there, they might even claim a first point ever in the tournament against against Philippines or Cambodia -- as unlikely as it might seem at the moment.

VIETNAM

Having established themselves as the dominant force in ASEAN football between 2018 to 2020, Vietnam have since relinquished that status to the Thais but remain a force to be reckoned with.

2022 has already seen them secure a return to the Asian Cup next year, and coach Park Hang-seo will be determined for his charges to prove that their performances in the 2020 edition of the AFF Championship was a one-off and not a more-permanent decline.

They might however have to do without star man Nguyen Quang Hai, who recently completed a move to Europe with second-tier French outfit Pau, but it should only serve as an opportunity for others to show they can play a starring role for the Vietnamese.

Much-too-early prediction: Despite Malaysia and Singapore likely to offer some resistance, Vietnam should still comfortably qualify from Group B. Reaching the final looks a realistic goal for Park and his charges and must be the minimum target.