2016 Review

For the first time in the storied history of the AFF Suzuki Cup two new nations hosted group stage matches and fans in Myanmar and the Philippines didn’t disappoint as they brought dashes of colour, plenty of noise and a vibrant atmosphere to the 11th edition of Southeast Asia’s showpiece tournament.

28 days after things began with Thailand defeating Indonesia 4-2 in Bocaue that pair clashed again but this time with the title on the line in Bangkok where goals in either half from Siroch Chatthong secured a 3-2 aggregate victory to hand the War Elephants a record fifth title.

With a star-studded side led by the likes of 2014 MVP Chanathip Songkrasin and a pair of players who would go on to join in him in making moves to the J.League in Teerasil Dangda and Teerathon Bunmathan the Thais entered the tournament as warm favourites and they lived up to that billing in cruising through Group A, winning each of their three matches and looking just as comfortable at the back as they were in going forward.

They were joined in the last four by an Indonesian side that had been expected to struggle in their return to the international arena following the lifting of a FIFA ban but after a slow start they grew in confidence as the tournament wore on.

Playing some dynamic football under veteran coach Alfred Riedl, the Merah Putih bounced back from that opening day loss to Thailand to draw 2-2 with the Philippines and then saw an 85th minute winner from Stefano Lilipaly secure a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Singapore that punched their semifinal ticket.

Whilst that result saw one of the host nations eliminated, over in Group B Myanmar made the region sit up and take notice as their youthful side recovered from a 2-1 loss to Vietnam to defeat Cambodia and Malaysia - via a dramatic 89th minute winner from David Htan - and book their spot in their semis.

They were joined by a Vietnamese side that played some sparkling attacking football in matching Thailand’s achievement of winning each of their group stage matches with many expecting this pair to clash in the final.

Those plans were upset as Indonesia’s fairytale continued in the most dramatic of circumstances in the semifinal, second leg, at Hanoi’s My Dinh Stadium; a match that would mark the end of a glittering career for the tournament’s second highest all-time scorer in Le Cong Vinh.

Remarkably, after having their goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh sent off, Vietnam scored twice - including a 93rd minute strike from Vu Minh Tuan - to lock the aggregate score at 3-3 and send the match to extra time.

Unfortunately for the hosts the stand-in keeper, defender Que Ngoc Hai, then conceded a penalty that Manahati Lestusen tucked home to secure the 4-3 aggregate win as Indonesia become the first nation to reach the final.

They were joined a day later as four second leg goals from Thailand saw them complete a straightforward 6-0 aggregate win over a gallant Myanmar side and set up a rematch of the 2000 and 2002 finals.

Since winning both of those encounters Thailand had risen to be not just Southeast Asia’s dominant force but also an emerging Asian powerhouse and they travelled to Bogor for the first leg as firm favourites.

After some strong early pressure when Teerasil headed home a cross from the left in the 33rd minute to send Thailand to the break with a vital away goal there were plenty of nervous faces amongst the expectant 30,000 strong crowd.

Those nerves were eased somewhat as Rizky Pora’s 65th minute strike took a deflection that saw the ball bounce past Kawin Thamsatchanan in the Thai goal to make it 1-1.

With the crowd urging the hosts on they grabbed a second five minutes later as defender Hansamu Yama became the unlikely hero as he rose at the back post to head home a corner from the right and give Indonesia a 2-1 first leg advantage.

A tight opening half in the second leg in Bangkok saw only the one shot on target but crucially for Thailand that led to a goal as a Teerathon cross from the left in the 38th minute bounced off an Indonesian defender and ricocheted in off Siroch to level the tie at 2-2 going into the break.

Two minutes after the restart a delightful ball from Chanathip – who would go on to win the MVP title for the second straight edition – saw Siroch left all alone in the box and he fired across keeper Kurnia Meiga to make it 2-0 on the evening.

A late missed penalty from the tournament’s top-scorer, Teerasil, didn’t ultimately hurt his side as Thailand completed the 3-2 aggregate win to seal that record setting fifth title.

Five was also the number for Thai icon Kiatisuk Senamuang as he collected his second title as a coach to go with the three he won as a player and he dedicated the victory to his nation’s late King as well as the huge number of supporters who had spurred the side on through a thrilling month of football.

“This win is a new year’s gift for all our fans.

“Before the match every player was under pressure because we lost the first leg in Indonesia and being the defending champions also added pressure.

“We dedicate this win for the new king and for our fans and the late king.”

Indonesia meanwhile fell at the final hurdle for the fifth time but when the 2018 edition rolls around in November both nations, even under new coaches, will be confident of once again being there at the pointy end of the tournament.

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