Teerasil's time is now but promising Aung Thu waits in the wings
By Calvin Tham
Two-time AFF Suzuki Cup top scorer Teerasil Dangda is firmly on course to write his name into the history books once again as he leads all scorers in this year's tournament.
Besides being two goals ahead of Indonesia's Boas Salossa and teammate Sarawut Masuk, the Thai striker is also closing in on Noh Alam Shah's all-time tally of 17 goals.
With Thailand qualifying for the final showpiece against Indonesia, Teerasil has two games to plunder at least three goals to match the Singaporean record holder.
Back in 2007 when then national team captain Kiatisuk ‘Zico’ Senamuang greeted a 19-year-old greenhorn from Muangthong United, little did he know that nine years on, that same boy would be the ace up his sleeve as he bids to be the first coach after Radojko Avramovic to win two AFF Suzuki Cup titles.
To have played alongside Zico gave Teerasil the opportunity to learn his craft from the master and that has translated into his superb showing at the 2016 edition with a tournament-leading five goals, ripping Vietnam and Indonesia’s backline apart in the process.
Having made his international debut at 19, one could be forgiven for thinking this could be Teerasil’s last AFF Suzuki Cup, but at the age of 28 he has many good years left in those goal-filled legs of his.
While the Thais have enjoyed a resurgence as Southeast Asia’s leading football nation since Zico took the reins, Teerasil has never won an AFF Suzuki Cup title, and will be desperate to add the coveted silverware to his impressive resume.
The No.10’s languid style of play and quiet off-field demeanor often leads to his teammates overshadowing his presence but once he laces up those golden boots, he is a classic goal machine who can score from within and without the box.
A five-goal tally puts him firmly in the driver’s seat to claim the tournament Golden Boot award but just when he thought he had deposed the likes of Singapore’s Khairul Amri and Phil Younghusband of the Azkals in the group stages, a new gladiator has stepped up to challenge him as the region’s top marksman.
Nine years younger at just 20 years of age, Myanmar’s tiny-framed forward Aung Thu helped himself to two goals in Group B to take the co-hosts into the final four.
He came to prominence under the watchful eyes of Gerd Zeise, who wrote himself into the record books by taking the Myanmar U-19s to the FIFA U-20 World Cup for the first time in the football-mad country’s history.
Standing at 1.67m tall, the diminutive Pyinmana-native zips in and out of defences similar in style to his idol – Lionel Messi.
Aung Thu’s performances in Group B had the scouts on their feet, hoping to bring his talent abroad, ironically to Teerasil’s homeland, where the Thai Premier League has implemented an additional ASEAN player quota for the 2018 season.
While Myanmar have had their Suzuki Cup hopes extinguished at the Rajamangala Stadium, their supporters must be excited at the prospect of what this team can do in years to come.
19 out of Myanmar’s 23-man squad are below the age of 24 and with star striker Kyaw Ko Ko desperate to regain his place in the national setup, the White Angels are all set for the next decade.
Aung Thu’s emergence as his country’s new footballing son provides the competition for Kyaw Ko Ko to step up his game, and if ex-Myanmar coach Radojko Avramovic’s prediction comes to fruition, the former could dominate the next few editions of this competition.
“This boy [Aung Thu] when I first saw him was special,” Avramovic said. “He has a lot of talent and with time will become top striker for Myanmar. Next few AFF Suzuki Cups will be his time.”
So as we eagerly await the two-legged final between Thailand and Indonesia, us football fans could perhaps already lay claim to witnessing the birth of Southeast Asia’s next strike sensation in Aung Thu.
His time will come, but for now, captain Teerasil remains the region’s No.1 goal machine as he closes in on his first-ever AFF Suzuki Cup winners’ medal.