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Looking back - 2008

Continuing our review of past editions of the AFF Suzuki Cup, we revisit the 2008 competition when a dramatic late goal finally ended Vietnam's long wait for a title.

It is an image that is indelibly etched in the mind of every Vietnamese football fan – the moment on December 28, 2008 when Le Cong Vinh ghosted into the box to meet Nguyen Minh Phuong's free-kick with a neatly flicked header.

A split-second later the ball had looped over the Thailand defence and goalkeeper Kosin Hathairattanakool into the far corner of the net to trigger off wild celebrations from Cong Vinh, the 40,000 fans packed into the My Dinh Stadium and the millions more watching the match on television throughout the country.

"I could not believe that I had scored," said Cong Vinh of the goal which came deep into stoppage time and gave his side a 3-2 aggregate lead over Thailand in the AFF Suzuki Cup final. "I just remember that after I scored the decisive goal, I could not hear anything. I took off my jersey and ran into the stands to celebrate with the spectators."

With Cong Vinh trying in vain to find his shirt on the sidelines, the referee restarted the game but quickly blew the final whistle to end the game and allow the biggest party in Asean Football Championship history to get into high gear.

"When the referee blew the final whistle, I was so happy because I had contributed such a great thing. Winning the AFF Suzuki Cup was something that football fans in Vietnam, indeed the whole nation, were hungry for," adds the striker.

To understand Cong Vinh's joy and the euphoria of the football-mad nation of over 80 million people, you had to view Vietnam's success of 2008 in the context of all of the disappointments that they had suffered in regional competition, particularly at the hands of Thailand, since their return to international football in 1991.

In the Asean Football Championship, they had suffered four defeats in five semi-final appearances from 1996 to 2007, three of them at the hands of Thailand. And on four occasions between 1995 and 2005, they had reached the South-East Asian Games football final only to be beaten on each occasion by the Thais.

The 2007 tournament had been another disappointing outing for Vietnam as they crashed out to Thailand in the semi-finals after a 2-0 defeat in Hanoi and the 2008 AFF Suzuki Cup looked set to follow a similar script when they lost to old nemesis by the same score in their opening game at the Sajakul Stadium in Phuket.

It left them facing a must-win situation against Malaysia in what proved to be a pulsating match. The Vietnamese twice took the lead through Pham Thanh Luong and Nguyen Vu Phong, only to be pegged back on each occasion by Indra Putra Mahayuddin, who fired in Malaysia's second equaliser off an indirect free-kick with only five minutes left.

But just a minute later, Phong's searching long ball from 15 metres inside his own half took a big bounce off the hard pitch and went over the head of advancing goalkeeper Mohammed Helmi to give Vietnam a somewhat fortuitous but crucial 3-2 win.

Vietnam duly wrapped up a 4-0 win over Laos in their final group game to secure second spot in Group B and a semi-final against defending two-time champions Singapore.

For all of their previous frustrations against Thailand, Vietnam's most bitter moment in the first six editions of the competition had come at the hands of the Lions in 1998 when they had overcome the Thais with a memorable 3-0 win in the semi-finals only to lose 1-0 to Singapore in the final in Hanoi.

In addition to winning the previous two tournaments, Raddy Avramovic's Singapore side entered the semi-final clash on a 20-match unbeaten run in the competition, a streak that included consecutive wins against Laos, Myanmar and co-hosts Indonesia that had seen them top Group A.

Vietnam had the better of the first leg in Hanoi but they could not find a breakthrough in a goalless draw. It left them with much work to do for the return match at Singapore's National Stadium, which had been vacated for over a year as it awaited demolition but was re-opened to stage the match.

In contrast to the first leg, the Lions dominated the return game but could not find a way past goalkeeper Duong Hong Son. And those misses would come back to haunt them with 15 minutes left when the visitors launched a quick counter-attack on the left flank.

Cong Vinh had entered the tournament as the poster boy of the Vietnamese side but the striker had been in disappointing form for much of it and failed to find the net. But he repaid coach Henrique Calisto's trust in him by outmuscling Ismail Yunos to take the ball to the byline before cutting it back for substitute Nguyen Quang Hai to slam home the winner.

It meant a rematch in the final against the Thais, who had topped Group B with a perfect record after trouncing Malaysia 3-0 in their final game before overcoming Indonesia in the other semi-final, winning 1-0 in Jakarta and 2-1 in Bangkok to claim five victories in a row.

Peter Reid's side were the odds-on favourites for a fourth Asean title and they looked the part during the opening exchanges in the first leg of the final, played in front of a crowd of 50,000 at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok.

They laid siege to the Vietnamese goal in the first half with Hong Son keeping out attempts by Natthapong Samana and Sutee Suksomkit, who also hit the crossbar, while Teerasil Dangda and Chonlatit Jantakam failed to hit the target with their efforts.

It seemed only a matter of time before the deadlock would be broken but when a goal did finally come in the 40th minute, it was at the other end as Le Tan Tai took the ball down the left flank and crossed to the near post where Nguyen Vu Phong ghosted in front of Natthapong to glance a header across goalkeeper Kosin into the far corner of the Thai net.

The Thais pushed forward in search of an equaliser before half-time but they were caught out again two minutes later when Le Tan Tai won a 50-50 challenge near the halfway line against Nataporn Phanrit, allowing Nguyen Viet Thang to break clear. Natthapong and Kosin tried to close him down but he coolly slid the ball across the Thai box to an unmarked Cong Vinh who tucked the ball away for his first goal of the tournament.

Substitute Ronnachai Rangsiyo pulled a goal back for the three-time champions immediately after coming on in the 75th minute when he met a cross by Natthapong with a header that forced a good save out of Hong Son but came back off the post and hit the goalkeeper's leg before going in.

However, the home side were denied an equaliser a minute later when Teerasil turned in another cross by Natthapong only to see his effort incorrectly ruled out for offside.

Despite their 2-1 home defeat, the decision of the organisers not to enforce the away goals rule meant that Thailand only needed to score once in the return match in Hanoi to level the tie.

The home side were content to sit back and defend their advantage in the early stages of the second leg but their approach backfired as they were pegged back on level terms in the 21st minute when Vu Nhu Thanh failed to track the run of Teerasil who charged into the box to head in Sutee's free-kick.

The Thai goal sparked the match to life with both sides creating chances as they pressed for the decisive goal. But neither side could make a breakthrough and the match appeared to be headed for an extra 30 minutes when Cong Vinh won a free-kick in a dangerous position on the left flank after being tripped up by Suree Sukha deep into stoppage time.

That set the stage for the most dramatic finish in the history of the competition and unquestionably the greatest moment in Vietnamese football history as Cong Vinh turned the ball in off the resulting free-kick to end his country's long wait for an international title.

"It was the first AFF Suzuki Cup victory in my football career and it was a golden goal, the greatest moment of my life," said Cong Vinh.

"Even in the future when I quit football, I will never forget that moment."


Philippines 1 Timor Leste 0
Cambodia 3 Laos 2
Timor Leste 2 Cambodia 2
Brunei 1 Philippines 1
Philippines 1 Laos 2
Timor Leste 1 Brunei 4
Laos 3 Brunei 2
Cambodia 2 Philippines 3
Brunei 1 Cambodia 2
Laos 2 Timor Leste 1

Final Rounds

Group A (Indonesia)
Singapore 5 Cambodia 0
Indonesia 3 Myanmar 0
Singapore 3 Myanmar 1
Cambodia 0 Indonesia 4
Myanmar 3 Cambodia 2
Indonesia 0 Singapore 2

Group B (Thailand)
Malaysia 3 Laos 0
Thailand 2 Vietnam 0
Malaysia 2 Vietnam 3
Laos 0 Thailand 6
Thailand 3 Malaysia 0
Vietnam 4 Laos 0

Indonesia 0 Thailand 1; Thailand 2 Indonesia 1
(Thailand won 3-1 on aggregate)

Vietnam 0 Singapore 0; Singapore 0 Vietnam 1
(Vietnam won 1-0 on aggregate)

Thailand 1 Vietnam 2; Vietnam 1 Thailand 1
(Vietnam won 3-2 on aggregate)