Ahead of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup, Football SEA takes a look at eight players under the age of 23 that could just use the tournament as a platform for bigger and better things.
Every two years, the best of Southeast Asia congregate and do battle to be crowned champions of the region.
In a tournament like this which captures the imagination, a performance over 90 minutes can sometimes be the difference between enhancing and destroying one’s reputation.
The Suzuki Cup has been graced by legends and cult figures such as Kiatisuk Senamuang, Noh Alam Shah, Le Cong Vinh and Safiq Rahim, who were all established players before bolstering their credentials with some outstanding displays on Southeast Asia’s biggest stage.
But ever so often, the tournament also provides a glimpse into the future as young starlets display their worth before going on to achieve greater things.
Here, we look at eight hot prospects that could just cause a stir in Singapore and Vietnam over the next month.
Indonesia: Manahati Lestusen, 20 – Midfielder (Persebaya Surabaya)
At the age of 20, Manahati Lestusen has already played in Europe for Belgian outfit Vise, been capped by his national team and was part of the Under-23 side that won the silver medal at last year’s Southeast Asian Games.
Despite his tender years, the defensive midfielder displays maturity beyond his years and was a regular for Persebaya Surabaya this season, as they reached the second phase of the Indonesia Super League before missing out on the semi-finals.
His versatility also means he is capable of playing a role in several areas of the field, but given his work ethic, robust style of play and tidy distribution, it would seem that his best work will come in the engine room.
Laos: Khonesavanh Sihavong, 20 – Winger (Lao Police Club)
Despite the strides they have made in recent years, Laos are yet to take the next step in matching it with the region’s big guns largely due to tactical and temperamental deficiencies that have been a longstanding issue.
However, they have had no problems in producing players blessed with speed and remarkable technical ability and it appears they have unearthed another raw diamond in Lao Police winger Khonesavanh Sihavong.
The 20-year-old, who netted against Malaysia at the last Suzuki Cup, has developed from a talented prospect to an important member of David Booth’s side and caused real problems for the opposition defence at last month’s qualifiers.
Malaysia: Gary Robbat, 22 – Midfielder (Harimau Muda A)
It’s been three years since he made his international debut and he was even singled out for praise by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger a couple of years back, so it is sometimes hard to remember that Malaysia midfielder Gary Robbat is still only 22.
But far from being your run-of-the-mill midfield destroyer, the Harimau Muda A is equally when his side are looking to attack and has shown a natural talent for dictating the tempo of the game.
Harimau Malaya boss Dollah Salleh may have opted to go for experience in the tournament, but he will not have to look much further than Robbat when that extra bit of youthful exuberance and fearlessness is required.
Myanmar: Zaw Min Tun, 22 – Defender (Yadanarbon)
Growing up in the small town of Thazi near Mandalay, Zaw Min Tun dreamt of becoming a doctor but was expected to join his family’s farming business.
Still, football proved to be the 22-year-old’s true calling and since going down this path, he has captained Myanmar in a FIFA World Cup qualifier and is also the current holder of his country’s record transfer fee after joining Yadanarbon from Magway.
For a side that have often had their attacking talents negated by some dreadful play at the back, Zaw Min Tun’s strength and composure in the heart of defence could just prove to be the foundation for a promising future.
Philippines: Daisuke Sato, 20 – Wing-back (Global)
Before he was announced as one of Global’s new signings for the upcoming United Football League season back in March, few would have heard of Daisuke Sato.
Barely eight months on, the Philippine-Japanese wideman is a UFL champion and was part of the Azkals side that narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup after finishing second in the AFC Challenge Cup earlier this year.
Possessing bundles of energy and a sweet left foot, Sato is set to be Philippines’ first-choice left-back for the Suzuki Cup and the battle for that spot between him and Jeffrey Christiaens could prove to be an enthralling duel in the years to come.
Singapore: Faris Ramli, 22 – Winger (LIONSXII)
The number 17 jersey is something of a revered shirt in Singaporean football having been worn by the legendary Fandi Ahmad, while its current owner – Shahril Ishak – has arguably been the nation’s best player over the past decade.
So it does mean something when Faris Ramli was handed the number at LIONSXII following Shahril’s departure to Johor Darul Ta’zim II at the start of the season, although the fleet-footed winger has all the attributes to follow in his national skipper’s footsteps.
With his pace, trickery and control, the ex-Courts Young Lions man never needs a second invitation to run at defenders and – with the right development – could become one of a rare breed of players who can win a game off their own boot.
Thailand: Adisak Kraisorn, 23 – Striker (BEC Tero Sasana)
When the Thailand Under-23 side created waves by finishing fourth at the 17th Asian Games in Incheon earlier this year, Adisak Kraisorn was one of their stars as he plundered five goals in a display of ruthless finishing – netting only one less than top scorer Ferdinand Sinaga.
Strangely, the 23-year-old was rarely given an extended run in the Buriram United starting XI despite netting twice in the AFC Champions League this season against Shandong Luneng Taishan and Pohang Steelers.
Nonetheless, one man that does appreciate his talents is War Elephants boss Kiatisuk Senamuang, who is set to deploy the powerfully-built striker as the focal point of his attack, and Adisak will be hoping for a strong showing at the Suzuki Cup to use as a platform ahead of a new chapter in his career in 2015 having signed for BEC Tero Sasana.
Vietnam: Dinh Tien Thanh, 23 – Defender (Hai Phong)
For all their talent in the attacking third, one of the main reasons why Vietnam had an ill-fated campaign at the 2012 Suzuki Cup was due to severe deficiencies at the back.
Since taking over back in May, Vietnam coach Toshiya Miura has embarked on an extensive search to inject new talent into the side and he appears to have found a solution to their centre-back woes in Dinh Tien Thanh.
Strong in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet, the Hai Phong man has all the hallmarks of a top-class centre-back and would do well to boost his credentials by nullifying the threat of Southeast Asia’s most-dangerous marksmen.
Others young guns to look out for: Evan Dimas (Midfielder, Indonesia), Ketsada Souksavanh (Defender, Laos), Zubir Azmi (Defender, Malaysia), Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit (Forward, Myanmar), Mark Hartmann (Forward, Philippines), Sahil Suhaimi (Forward, Singapore), Narubodin Weerawatnodom (Defender, Thailand), Mac Hong Quan (Forward, Vietnam)