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Looking back - 2010

Concluding our review of past editions of the AFF Suzuki Cup, we go back two years to the last competition when Malaysia overcame a poor start to win the Asean title for the first time.

If the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup taught us anything at all, it was that football can be so utterly unpredictable.

It was a tournament that saw Thailand and Singapore – both three-time winners – bow out during the group stage. Meanwhile, former whipping boys Philippines beat defending champions Vietnam and qualified for the semi-finals for the first time.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the way in which Malaysia recovered from their heaviest ever defeat in the competition to become Asean champions for the first time.

K.Rajagobal’s side began their campaign with a 5-1 loss to Indonesia but they came back to record a 4-2 aggregate win over the same opponents in the final.

“The result of our first game against Indonesia was really disappointing and after that we had to treat every game in that competition like it was a final,” says Malaysia striker Safee Sali, who finished as the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals.

“When we met Indonesia again in the final, we were determined to prove that we were the better team especially in the first leg on our home ground. We wanted to show that we were not a team that would normally lose 5-1 and we proved that by winning the match.”

Malaysia’s Under-23 side had won the gold medal at the South-East Asian Games football competition a year earlier but the team entered the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup with little real expectation. Team manager Subahan Kamal was especially keen to dispel any suggestion that his young side were among the contenders ahead of the tournament.

“We are taking things one step at a time,” he told the tournament’s official website. “Most of our players here are around 19 or 20 years old and they need to gain experience through playing at the Asian Games and AFF Suzuki Cup.

“Our target is to retain our SEA Games gold next year and to win the AFF Suzuki Cup in two years’ time.”

Subahan’s caution was understandable given Malaysia’s disappointing record in the first seven editions of the Asean Football Championship. They had reached the final of the inaugural tournament in 1996, which they lost 1-0 to Thailand. But despite glimpses of promise in the subsequent competitions, they had failed to match that performance and crashed out in the semi-finals no fewer than four times.

Under Norizan Bakar, they had narrowly missed out on the 2007 final after losing on penalties to eventual champions Singapore in the last four but the 2008 tournament had marked a low point as they failed to get past the group stage following defeats against Vietnam and Thailand.

Coach B.Sathianathan kept his job after that campaign but he was dismissed just over a month later following a 5-0 loss at home against United Arab Emirates in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. While there were suggestions that a foreign coach would succeed him, it was Under-23 coach K.Rajagobal who was elevated to take charge of the senior side as well.

Rajagobal would enjoy success with his youngsters later that year when they claimed their first SEA Games gold in 20 years in Laos. Given his knowledge of the young players, it was hardly surprising that he included many of them in his squad for the AFF Suzuki Cup although his selection was questioned after the opening game against Group A hosts Indonesia in Jakarta.

It started well enough for the visitors as Norshahrul Idlan fired them ahead in the 18th minute. But an own goal by Asraruddin Putra levelled the score shortly afterwards before Christian Gonzales, Muhammad Ridwan, Arif Suyono and Irfan Bachdim struck to hand Malaysia a heavy loss.

The good news for Malaysia was that an underprepared Thailand had also started badly and needed a late goal to rescue a 2-2 draw with Laos in their opener, which took place just three days after many of their players had been involved in a competitive Thai FA Cup final in Bangkok.

It meant that both sides could not afford to lose when they met in their second match at the Gelora Bungkarno Stadium and the match turned out to be a cagey affair with Thailand having the better of the chances in a goalless stalemate.

Meanwhile, Indonesia thrashed Laos 6-0 in their second match, a result that meant Malaysia went into their final group game against the Indochinese side knowing that a win might not be enough to see them advance if the Thais beat Indonesia, who had secured first place with a game to spare.

The Tigers kept their part of the bargain at the Sriwijaya Stadium in Palembang as they beat the Laotians 5-1 with three of their goals coming in the last 15 minutes. But it appeared that it might not be enough as Thailnad went into the last 10 minutes of their match in Jakarta with a 1-0 lead.

However, a pair of penalties, both converted by Bambang Pamungkas, in the final eight minutes turned the match in favour of the home side and saw the Thais fail to progress from the group stage for only the second time in the competition’s history.

Group B also threw up some surprises, not least the impressive form of the Philippines who entered the 2010 tournament with one win and 19 losses in 21 previous matches in the competition proper.

The Azkals had only finished ahead of Cambodia on goal difference during the qualifiers but they gave Singapore a torrid time in their group opener in Hanoi and secured a deserved point from a 1-1 draw thanks to Chris Greatwich’s stoppage-time equaliser.

They were given little chance against co-hosts and defending champions Vietnam in their second game but a resolute defensive display and goals on the counter-attack by Greatwich and Phil Younghusband delivered the biggest shock in the competition’s history.

A goalless draw with Myanmar sealed their place in the last four where they were joined by Vietnam, who recovered from the 2-0 loss to the Filipinos to edge Singapore 1-0 and secure top spot.

Despite their struggles during the group stage, Vietnam were still considered favourites for their semi-final against Malaysia but they were undone by Safee Sali, who had failed to score during the group stage but bagged a brace in the first leg in Kuala Lumpur to give Rajagobal’s side a 2-0 lead.

The Malaysian defence had conceded only one goal in three games since their heavy loss to Indonesia and they held firm in the return match in Hanoi to secure a goalless draw which sent them through to the final for only the second time.

They would once again meet the Indonesians, who had won all five of their games on their run to the final including a pair of 1-0 victories in their semi-final against the Philippines, who were forced to play both legs in Jakarta due to the lack of a suitable stadium in Manila to host a semi-final match.

Indonesia had been beaten in the final on three previous occasions but their earlier win against Malaysia and their impressive results during the tournament made them firm favourites to lift the trophy for the first time. But after playing their first five games in Jakarta, the Indonesians came unstuck in their only away game in the competition.

The match at the Bukit Jalil Stadium was a tight affair until the hour mark when Norshahrul Idlan chased down a hopeless cause near the right byline, nicking the ball off Maman Abdurahman before centering for Safee to sidefoot home from close range.

Malaysia would add two more goals in the next 12 minutes as Norshahrul crossed for Ashari Samsudin to make it 2-0 before Safee headed in his second of the game to give his side a three-goal lead to take to Jakarta.

Indonesia attempted to claw back the deficit in the return match but they squandered a wonderful opportunity when Firman Utina’s 19th minute penalty was saved by goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi.

Irfan Bachdim hit the Malaysian crossbar just before half-time and Indonesia’s hopes were well and truly sunk when a giveaway in the Malaysian half allowed Ashari Samsuddin to send Safee clear in the 54th minute to give his side a 4-0 aggregate advantage.

“It was a big moment for me – perhaps the most important goal that I had ever scored for my team,” said Safee. “I had been worried that I had not been able to score in the first three games but I stayed calm and thanks to the good work of my teammates, I managed to score some important goals.”

It was a decisive moment from which the Indonesians were unable to recover and late consolation goals by Mohammad Nasuha and Muhammad Ridwan ultimately did little to take the gloss off a sensational recovery by the Malaysians.


Timor Leste 0 Philippines 5
Laos 0 Cambodia 0
Cambodia 4 Timor Leste 2
Laos 2 Philippines 2
Philippines 0 Cambodia 0
Laos 6 Timor Leste 1

Final Rounds

Group A (Indonesia)
Thailand 2 Laos 2
Indonesia 5 Malaysia 1
Thailand 0 Malaysia 0
Laos 0 Indonesia 6
Malaysia 5 Laos 1
Indonesia 2 Thailand 1

Group B (Vietnam)
Singapore 1 Philippines 1
Vietnam 7 Myanmar 1
Singapore 2 Myanmar 1
Philippines 2 Vietnam 0
Myanmar 0 Philippines 0
Vietnam 1 Singapore 0

Philippines 0 Indonesia 1; Indonesia 1 Philippines 0
(Indonesia won 2-0 on aggregate)

Malaysia 2 Vietnam 0; Vietnam 0 Malaysia 0
(Malaysia won 2-0 on aggregate)

Malaysia 3 Indonesia 0; Indonesia 2 Malaysia 1;
(Malaysia won 4-2 on aggregate)