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2008 AFF Suzuki Cup review

The AFF Suzuki Cup to find the kings of Asean football produced 18 pulsating matches, 56 goals and worth champions in Vietnam.

It was a great three weeks of football that fired passions, created heroes and underlined the importance to the fans of the regional tournament.

Nowhere was the atmosphere more charged than at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi when the skilful Le Cong Vinh headed home the overtime goal that gave Vietnam their first title in international football.

Vietnam's 3-2 aggregate win over three-time champions Thailand sent the nation wild with delight and topped off what had been a very good year or so for football in Vietnam.

Vietnam were the only Asean team to make the last eight of the 2007 Asian Cup and a year later, the under-22 team lifted the Merdeka Cup in Malaysia.

The Vietnamese are consumed by the beautiful game and the national team's AFF Suzuki Cup triumph put Le Cong Vinh and goalkeeper Duong Hong Son - voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player – on the same pedestal as hero-worshipped players from the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga.

International success was a long time coming. In 1998 Vietnam hosted the competition and were favourites to win. They reached the final only to lose 1-0 to unfancied Singapore. That was as good as it got until just before 9pm on December 28, 2008.

Thailand, playing an attractive brand of football under new coach Peter Reid, were hot favourites to win a record fourth title but paid the price for failing to convert their chances in the two-legged final.

Vietnam pulled off a shock 2-1 victory over Thailand in the first leg of the final at Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium and played themselves back into the contest after going behind to a 21st minute strike by Teerasil Dangda in the second leg.

The home side's dogged defence and swift counter attacks finally paid a handsome dividend with Le Cong Vinh's tournament-winning header in the third minute of injury time.

Beaten semi-finalists Singapore, the defending champions, and Indonesia both contributed hugely to the success of the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Singapore topped their group in Jakarta with wins over Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia and looked set for a third successive final after withstanding a barrage of attacks from Vietnam in the first leg of the semi-final in Hanoi to escape with a 0-0 draw.

A full-house at Singapore's National Stadium, specially re-opened for the occasion, fully expected the Lions to sweep aside Vietnam in the second leg but Henrique Calisto's men defended stoutly before delivering the sucker punch in the 74th minute.

A lightning-quick break by Le Cong Vinh set up an opportunity for substitute Nguyen Quang Hai who coolly tucked away the winner. Indonesia were disappointing in their 1-0 home defeat to Thailand in the first leg of the semi-final but some smart tactics by coach Benny Dolo saw them grab an early goal in the second leg.

But Thailand remained patient, sapped Indonesia's energy with relentless attacks and won through to the final with two late goals. Myanmar and Malaysia, who finished third in Group A and B respectively, had their moments in the tournament. The men from Myanmar suffered from their old problem of indiscipline plus the inability of the normally potent Soe Myat Min to make an impact on the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Malaysia could have made the semi-finals with a win over Vietnam in their group encounter in Phuket but were left to rue gifting a couple of soft goals in the 3-2 defeat, especially the winner from Nguyen Vu Phong.

The speculative kick ahead from his own half in the 88th minute looked harmless enough but the ball took a wicked bounce and looped over the head of the Malaysian 'keeper into the net.

Cambodia and Laos, the two qualifiers, anchored their groups after three losses but had many reasons to be optimistic about the future. Both teams played good football at times during the tournament and it was only a lack of experience and staying power that separated them from their more fancied opponents.

The Golden Boot for the top scorer was shared between three players on four goals, young Thai striker Teerasil Dangda, the marauding Budi Sudarsono of Indonesia and Agu Casmir of Singapore.

Thailand won the Fairplay Award in a tournament that had its share of heated moments but generally was played in a sporting manner.

Group Standings

Group A
Team MP  W  D  L GF GA Pts
Indonesia 3 3 0 0 13 2 9
Malaysia 3 1 1 1 6 6 4
Thailand 3 0 2 1 3 4 2
Laos 3 0 1 2 3 13 1

Group B
Team MP  W  D  L GF GA Pts
Vietnam 3 2 0 1 8 3 6
Philippines 3 1 2 0 3 1 5
Singapore 3 1 1 1 3 3 4
Myanmar 3 0 1 2 2 9 1