After having failed to qualify for the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time in their history in 2016, Laos return to the big stage later this year with a new coach, new look squad and hopes of causing a couple of upsets along the way.

There’s been plenty of upheaval in Lao football over the past couple of years with 38 players banned for match fixing and that’s forced the team’s Singaporean coach, Mike Wong, to basically have to start from scratch in assembling what could be the youngest national team seen in Suzuki Cup history.

“This is a very important tournament for a country like Laos and we know the challenges we face.

“With so many players suspended from the team those players are gone and I’ve had to bring in a whole new set of players now.

“We recently played two international matches against Cambodia and Bangladesh and I was very happy with how we performed (a 1-0 loss and a 2-2 draw) but you have to remember that the team had an average age of just 21 and that’s the way that it’s likely to be going forward.”

What that re-boot means is that the team will be incredibly short of experience but they’ve been helped by the fact that they currently have four members of the national squad playing professionally in the lower tiers of Thailand and Wong sees huge potential in this talented crop of youngsters.

“The immediate target for us is to ensure we are competitive but with the format change we know we’ll have a strong local backing in Laos and technically the players here are very gifted and in many ways similar to the kind of players you see in Thailand.

“There will be challenges with mental and physical issues but we have a detailed plan in place for the next seven months and are confident that we’ll be ready come November.”

Given that in their ten previous outings Laos have only managed just the two victories across 33 matches you could excuse the coach for setting modest targets but Wong is confident that Laos can spring a surprise or two in the region’s most important tournament.

“I’ve been with the squad for seven months and already I can see real progress even with our inexperience.

“One thing is for sure and that’s we’re not going just to make up the numbers and we’re aiming to pick up points and with a bit of luck then qualify from the group stage.”