By Martin Petty
BANGKOK, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Former England midfielder Peter Reid faces his first big test as an international coach this week at the Southeast Asian championships, a tournament where acrimony and bitter rivalry is the order of the day.
The former Sunderland and Manchester City manager is tasked with steering Thailand to their fourth title in fiercely-contested biennial event, which the Kingdom is co-hosting with Indonesia this week.
Although more familiar with the rigours of World Cups and top-flight relegation dogfights, Reid insists there is no less pressure as boss of one of soccer's less fashionable sides.
"When you coach a country with a passion for football like Thailand, the pressure is definitely on, but it's part of the job," Reid told Reuters on Wednesday.
"It's something that I relish because I'm confident this team can win it.
"It'll be difficult, but the players are looking good. I'm pleasantly surprised with their ability."
The biggest threat to Reid's team will come from arch-rivals Singapore, whose dramatic 2007 victory was achieved amid ugly nationalist fervour and cries of foul play, triggered by a petulant mid-match walkoff by runners-up Thailand.
One match at the 1998 tournament was even more farcical with Thailand and Indonesia both deliberately trying to lose to avoid meeting Vietnam in the semi-finals.
Singapore's Serbian coach Radojko Avramovic, whose team is top-heavy with naturalised players, will be quietly confident of retaining the title.
The Lions are boosted by the return of prolific forward and 2007 player of the tournament Noh Alam Shah, who is vilified by fans for the kind of thuggish on-field antics that earned him a one-year ban.
"We're have a few injury concerns but this team is targeting a place in the final, after that, we'll see," Avramovic told Reuters on Wednesday.
"I've no regrets about recalling Alam Shah. I'm happy with his progress and he's shown great improvements," he said of the striker, who was suspended last year for a savage attack on international team mate Daniel Bennett.
Singapore, who have also won the tournament three times, will contest Group A in Jakarta with Indonesia, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Thailand take on Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos in Group B, which was moved from Bangkok to Phuket when the capital's two airports were occupied by anti-government protesters last week.
Group A matches begin on Friday, with Group B games getting underway on Saturday. (Editing by Nick Mulvenney)comments