2014 Review

The final of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2014 matched favourites Thailand with fighters Malaysia, the War Elephants against the Tigers and youthful exuberance versus experience.

"Kiatisuk's Kids", as they had become known, embodied all the traits of Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang - a legend in his playing days - and had reached the final by playing a refreshing brand of free-flowing football with midfielder Chanathip "Messi J" Songkrasin the beating heart of the team.

Malaysia had impressed with their resolve and resilience during the tournament having snatched qualification from the jaws of elimination in their final group match with defending champions Singapore and then silenced a raucous crowd at the My Dinh Stadium with a rousing first half display in the semi-final, second leg that reaped four goals and knocked the stuffing out of Vietnam.

Midfielder Safiq Rahman and forwards Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha - all veterans of the 2010 winning side - contributed hugely to Malaysia's successful run to the final as coach Dollah Salleh stuck by the tried and tested, both in personnel and playing style.

With sell-out crowds of more than 45,000 at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok and 90,000 at Kuala Lumpur's cavernous Bukit Jalil National Stadium roaring on their heroes the scene was set for a classic two-leg final of ASEAN's leading football tournament.

Three-time champions Thailand put one hand on the AFF Suzuki Cup with a 2-0 victory over Malaysia in a pulsating first leg that lived up to its billing.

A 72nd minute penalty from Thai-Swiss midfielder Charyl Chappuis - one of the finds of the tournament - and a strike from Kroekrit Thawikan gave the young Thailand side a two-goal cushion that proved crucial in the final reckoning.

Malaysia had frustrated Thailand for much of the game with tigerish tackling in midfield and street-smart defending but the pressure from almost non-stop attacks finally told in the closing 20 minutes.

Not content with a two-goal lead, the hosts flowed forward looking for a third and they had the crowd on their feet with a breathtaking spell of tiki-taka football, consisting of 27 consecutive passes and flicks, that ended with Chappuis firing just past the post.

Thailand may have finished well on top at Rajamangala Stadium but playing in front of 90,000 fans roaring on the opposition was a different matter entirely and the youngsters suffered an attack of stage fright in the second leg.

Given their performance in the semi-final, second leg nobody expected that Malaysia would roll over in front of their passionate fans and their push for a second title in four years was helped by a disjointed start by Thailand.

Malaysia took the game by the scruff of the neck and they were level on aggregate at half-time thanks to a seventh-minute penalty from Safiq Rahim and a headed goal by Indra Putra Mahayuddin just before the break.

The alarm bells started to ring louder for Thailand in the 58th minute as the outstanding Safiq put Malaysia ahead 3-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate when he lined up a free-kick with his trusty right foot and curled it elegantly into the corner of the net for his tournament-leading sixth goal.

Finding themselves behind seemed to rid Thailand of any nerves they were still suffering and they staged a grandstand finish to what had been a grand tournament for the War Elephants.

Chappuis netted a precious away goal after Farizal Marlias had fumbled a Sarach Yooyen free-kick in the 82nd minute and Chanathip sealed the Thai victory with a fine strike on the counter-attack three minutes from time.

The hard-fought victory saw Thailand end their 12-year drought in the AFF Suzuki Cup and draw level with Singapore with four ASEAN crowns to their credit.

Having been the last Thailand captain to lift the trophy in 2002, Kiatisuk was delighted to become the first person to win the AFF Suzuki Cup as a player and coach.

"I can't believe today. It was a very exciting game - a perfect and beautiful game," said the 41-year-old popularly known as Zico.

"I knew it would be tough against Malaysia (backed by) 90,000 fans but I said to my players to go home if they wanted to play for a 0-0 draw.

"Malaysia scored three goals and made it a difficult game but I am proud of my team."

"Congratulations to my players, they did very well and we almost got the cup," lamented Malaysia coach Dollah. "But 70 minutes as always cost us our chance. Our fitness was not good and we collapsed. We made mistakes but this is football."

Chanathip was deservedly named Most Valuable Player of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2014.

The 21-year-old beguiled with his mazy dribbling and pinpoint passing and found the net twice, including the goal that sealed Thailand's victory in the final.

"It feels good to be named the Most Valuable Player and thanks to my teammates and to our supporters for helping me to win this award," said Chanathip.

"But it was more important for me that we won the tournament because football is about 11 players and you are not playing alone."

Malaysia midfielder Safiq Rahman was top scorer in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2014 with six goals - five of which came from set pieces, four penalties and a free kick - and his name was added to an illustrious roll of honour that includes Thailand striker Teerasil Dangda (five goals in the 2012 tournament), Malaysia's Safee Sali (five goals in 2010) and Bambang Pamungkas of Indonesia (eight goals in 2002).
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