Following the joint World Cup-Asian Cup qualifying results of the Southeast Asian representatives over the past fortnight, the aspiration of reaching the top echelons of the world game remains just as that.
The majority of the region endured a torrid September as they largely succumbed to defeats against stronger nations from other Asian sub-continents.
Thailand and Vietnam were the only regional nations to emerge with credit this time. Last-gasp heroics ensured Thailand hold Iraq to a 2-2 draw at home while Vietnam snatched a late 2-1 away win in Chinese Taipei.
While Singapore fell valiantly to Syria by a solitary goal, the remaining representatives found themselves at the wrong end of huge scores.
Where Did It All Go Wrong This Time (Again…)?
The huge losses reflect the gulf in standards between the region and the top and mid-range nations in Asia. Whether it was the tactical know-how, technique or experience, this was where Southeast Asia generally continued to fall short from these results.
Save for Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, the rest of the region rarely if at all sparred teams from the Middle East even in friendly matches, where the football is of a more mature and tougher standard than this subcontinent.
Instead, they usually went for morale-boosting warm-ups against teams of their own standards. While this would often help lift them ahead of competitive action, it left them short of the sharpness required to take on tough opponents in qualifying.
The lack of exposure and know-how in dealing with teams at least a level above their standards have seen them hung out to dry this month by more ruthless opponents.
Thus unsurprising, they are left propping up their respective groups as the second round of Asian qualifying reaches towards the midway mark.
Bhutan Are Raw, but ASEAN Ain’t Raw Anymore
From the indicators, only Thailand and possibly Vietnam remain on track to become the first Southeast Asian teams to reach for the 2019 United Arab Emirates Asian Cup finals at the earliest opportunity.
Both regional powerhouses could also count themselves fortunate for their slice of good fortune in Group F where only 2007 Asian Cup winners Iraq are a serious challenge and East Asian minnows Chinese Taipei completing the four-team group following Indonesia’s expulsion from the campaign.
The only Asian subcontinent to fare worse than this region is the South Asian region. India, Maldives, Bangladesh and newcomers Bhutan have yet to register a point after four match days of action.
Bhutan at least have the excuse that they are exposed to such high levels of Asian football for the first time at this stage, but the likes of Cambodia, Laos and even Malaysia no longer have such excuses having featured in numerous qualifiers in previous cycles.
October could well the litmus test for Southeast Asian football at the international level as the fixtures could sift out the haves and have-nots in Asian football leading towards the business end of this qualifying phase.
Southeast Asian results in the joint World Cup-Asian Cup qualifying action on 3 and 8 September:-
United Arab Emirates 10-0 Malaysia
Saudi Arabia 7-0 Timor Leste
Malaysia 1-2 Saudi Arabia (Abandoned after 88 minutes due to crowd trouble)
Syria 1-0 Singapore
Japan 3-0 Cambodia
Cambodia 0-6 Syria
Thailand 2-2 Iraq
Chinese Taipei 1-2 Vietnam
South Korea 8-0 Laos
Kuwait 9-0 Myanmar
Laos 0-2 Kuwait
Philippines 1-5 Uzbekistan