Tournament History

When K. Sanbagamaran burst into the penalty box at Singapore’s old National Stadium at Kallang on an early September evening more than two decades ago he set on course a tournament that would become a cauldron for passion, vibrancy, joy despair, hope and expectation.

The Malaysian midfielder had the honour of scoring the first ever goal in the inaugural edition of what would become the AFF Suzuki Cup, a competition that’s grown to become known across Southeast Asia and beyond as one of the most dazzling and thrilling on the football calendar.

Sanbagamaran’s Malaysia would go on to reach the maiden final back in 1996 where they lost to a Thailand side whose match winner in the 1-0 victory would become synonymous with the tournament itself.

Kiatisuk Senamuang’s ninth-minute goal handed the Thais the first of what would become a record five titles and in a perfect piece of symmetry, 24 years after the man known as ‘Zico’ lifted the trophy in Singapore as a player, he did so again as the national coach in Bangkok in 2016.

That 3-2 triumph over Indonesia in the two-legged final was played in front of sold-out crowds in Bogor and Bangkok and was further evidence as to just how influential the AFF Suzuki Cup has become for the growth of Southeast Asian football.

For the first time the event was classified as a FIFA ‘A’ tournament, meaning that nations earned vital rankings points, and as the competition has moved boldly into the digital era fan engagement numbers showed just how important it has become to some of the global game’s most passionate supporters.

A total television audience of more than 110 million tuned into the action from 2016 whilst the official AFF Suzuki Cup Facebook page had 1.3 million likes with those numbers set to grow even further as a new format awaits for the 2018 edition.

Both that format and the number of nations participating have changed throughout the years from that inaugural edition back in 1996 that began with the six founding members of the ASEAN Federation (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore & Thailand) being joined by four ‘invited’ nations (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) that would go on to become permanent members.

The second edition was hosted by Vietnam in 1998 and would mark the only time to date that a player from Myanmar has won the Golden Boot with Myo Hlaing Win’s achievement even more impressive given his nation didn’t progress from the group stage.

Both of the finalists from 1996, Thailand and Malaysia, also failed to reach the final where Vietnam, in front a huge local backing, were defeated by Singapore as R.Sasikumar’s second half goal secured the Lions’ maiden title.

Stung by that early exit, Thailand responded in style when they became the first host nation to lift the trophy as they brushed aside Indonesia 4-1 at the iconic Rajamangala Stadium, a venue that had only been built two years earlier.

The hero of that match was Woorawoot Srimaka whose sumptuous left-footed strike either side of two powerful headers saw him become just the second player in the history of the tournament to score a hattrick and set him on course for what would ultimately be 15 career goals in the competition – a mark that puts him equal second on the all-time tally.

In 2002, Thailand created more history as they became the first nation to defend the title with the final being the only one to date that has been settled by penalties.

In front of 100,000 fans at one of world football’s most lively venues, the Gelora Bung Karno, Indonesia fought back from two goals down to square things at 2-2 only to see two missed penalties hand Dusit Chalermsan a chance to win it with the defender pulling off a cheeky, chipped, effort into the middle of the goal to send the Thai bench wild and silence the capacity crowd.

2004 saw the first time the tournament was co-hosted with Malaysia and Vietnam the venues for a competition that also marked the first and, until now, only time that the newly formed Timor-Leste national side would participate.

After a youthful Thai side was surprisingly bundled out in the group stage, Singapore picked up wins in both stages of the two-legged final – with the second leg seeing the largest crowd at the National Stadium in Singapore for more than a decade - to secure a 5-2 aggregate win over an Indonesian side that had tasted heartbreak at the final stage for the third consecutive time.

Singapore joined Thailand as three-time champions when they defeated the Thais 3-2 on aggregate in the 2007 final with Noh Alam Shah having one of the finest individual tournaments in the history of the event.

The lethal forward scored ten times, including the vital opener in the final, and to date nobody has surpassed that mark in a single tournament nor the 17 goals that he plundered throughout his time in Southeast Asia’s showpiece event.

Vietnam then broke the dominance of Singapore and Thailand, as they became the newest champions, winning the 2008 edition in front of a huge and expectant crowd.

After a stunning 2-1 win for Vietnam in the first leg, a youthful Teerasil Dangda scored in the first half of the second to level things on aggregate only for Le Cong Vinh to enshrine his reputation as Vietnam’s greatest ever forward with a glancing header in the fourth minute of stoppage time to spark wild scenes that lasted late into the Hanoi night.

Malaysia followed Vietnam in etching their name in tournament history as they claimed a maiden title in 2010, heaping more misery on Indonesia as they won the two-legged final 4-2 on aggregate.

Having been hammered 5-1 by the Indonesians in the group stage, it was a stunning form reversal from Malaysia to win the first leg of the final 3-0 in front of 99,000 fans at the Bukit Jalil Stadium and that result meant that even with a 2-1 second leg loss in Jakarta the Tigers became the fourth different nation with a title to their name.

Singapore claimed a record fourth crown following a 3-2 aggregate win over Thailand in the 2012 final as four goals from tournament MVP Shahril Ishak and some telling contributions from Khairul Amri saw the Lions emerge as regional kingpins.

Thailand matched that achievement two years later though as Kiatisuk became the first man to win the title as both a player and a coach after steering his side to a 3-2 aggregate win in the most dramatic of circumstances.

A handy 2-0 lead from the first leg evaporated inside an hour in the return at the Bukit Jalil and with eight minutes of time remaining and a 3-2 lead it looked as though Malaysia were headed for their second AFF Suzuki Cup title only for goals from Charyl Chappuis and then MVP Chanathip Songkrasin to seal the stunning late victory.

Chanathip was again the driving force in what would become a record setting fifth title for Thailand in 2016 as he became the first player to win multiple MVP awards as they pipped Indonesia – who finished as runners-up for what’s also a record fifth time – 3-2 on aggregate in the final.

Eleven editions, four different champions, millions of supporters, more than 700 goals and countless hours of thrilling highs and sinking lows – these are just some of the reasons why the AFF Suzuki Cup has become one of the planet’s most enchanting football tournaments.

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