Malaysia, Singapore to resume rivalry at AFF Championship but are Vietnam still the team to beat in Group B?

The 2022 AFF Championship will see Malaysia renew hostilities with old foes Vietnam -- whom they lost to in the 2018 final -- as well as traditional rivals Singapore. Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

The age-old rivalry between Malaysia and Singapore will be renewed at the 2022 AFF Championship, with both former champions targeting a semifinal berth at the minimum.

But with 2018 winners Vietnam -- also the only Southeast Asian outfit to compete in the third and final round of Asian qualifiers for the recently-completed 2022 FIFA World Cup -- also present in Group B, at least one of the three will have to suffer the ignominy of a group-stage elimination over the next fortnight.

On paper, it looks like the Vietnamese are least likely to miss out on the knockout round, especially given their current standing in the region.

Since the arrival of South Korean coach Park Hang-seo in 2017, Vietnam have not only established themselves as one of ASEAN's leading lights alongside Thailand but have also made waves on a bigger continental scale -- having advanced to the quarterfinals of the last AFC Asian Cup back in 2019.

With Park set to call time on his managerial reign upon conclusion of their AFF campaign, the Vietnamese will have extra incentive to send their beloved tactician off on a high.

And they certainly have the personnel to do just that.

With current golden boy Nguyen Quang Hai set to allowed to feature by French club Pau, Vietnam should also have regular stalwarts Que Ngoc Hai, Vu Van Thanh and Nguyen Hoang Duc providing plenty of quality, while an extra injection of class and experience will come in the form of ex-captain Nguyen Van Quyet returning to the international fold.

Vietnam will look to get off to a positive start against minnows Laos on Wednesday, especially given their second Group B tie seems them lock horns with old foes Malaysia -- whom they beat in the 2018 final to claim their second AFF title.

Curiously, the Harimau Malaya squad has been referred to as a 'B' team given the glaring absence of players from the star-studded Johor Darul Ta'zim, who have won the past nine Malaysia Super League titles in addition to also completing the domestic treble for the first time this year.

JDT's refusal to release their players for the tournament has robbed Malaysia coach Kim Pan-gon of players who would have been expected to feature in his starting XI such as Arif Aiman, Matthew Davies and Akhyar Rashid, although talismanic attacker Safawi Rasid is available given his recent loan move to Ratchaburi and will captain his country for the first time.

Should Malaysia not be able to get a result against Vietnam, then they will almost certainly need a result against arch-rivals Singapore, who also have a couple of selection worries of their own.

A recent 3-1 friendly win over Maldives proved more damaging than beneficial with star striker Ikhsan Fandi suffering a serious knee injury, and subsequently ruled out of the tournament along with midfielder Adam Swandi -- who was also a casualty from that tie.

There are now serious questions marks over the firepower the Lions boast without a man who has established himself as their main man in attack with five goals in the past two editions of the AFF Championship.

Still, Singapore will be hoping they have a ready-made replacement in the form of his younger brother Ilhan Fandi, who will join Belgian outfit Deinze after the tournament on the back of a brilliant campaign that saw him score 17 goals in the Singapore Premier League en route to a title victory with Albirex Niigata (S) -- at just the age of 20.

With three standout teams already vying for just two semifinal spots, do Group B's other sides Myanmar and Laos then have anything to play for?

Myanmar reached the final four as recently as 2016 and do always have the potential to cause an upset, although they have been hampered by far bigger issues the country has been embroiled in over the past few years.

And for Laos, who have not won their past 23 matches at the tournament since 2007, just holding out for a point in any of their four matches should be viewed as a positive.