The 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup is only a day away and Football SEA picks out eight established stars who would just prove the difference in their teams’ bid for regional glory.
Kiatisuk Senamuang, Bambang Pamungkas, Lionel Lewis and Safee Sali – this are just some of the names that were etched in Southeast Asian football folklore following outstanding displays in past editions of the region’s premier international tournament.
Two years ago, Teerasil Dangda produced proved unstoppable in attack as he finished as the competition’s top scorer with six goals, although the likes of Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri ultimately earned the bigger prize after inspiring Singapore to a fourth crown.
The region’s best will once again congregate over the next month as the group stage takes place in Vietnam and Singapore, and here, we cast our eye on eight players who could have a huge say on where the Suzuki Cup ends up come December 20.
Indonesia: Achmad Jufriyanto, 27 – Defender (Persib Bandung)
The 2012 Suzuki Cup was a tournament for Indonesia to forget as they were booted out at the group stage, and a key factor in their demise was some uninspiring displays at the back by Wahyu Wijiastanto, Handi Ramdhan and Fachruddin Aryanto.
Although a ball has yet to be kicked, it is likely Garuda will not have the same problem this time around as coach Alfred Riedl has settled on a much steadier backline.
While Achmad Jufriyanto may not be the most-experienced player at international level with just ten caps to his name, he is rapidly establishing himself as a tough centre-back who reads the game well, and is coming off the back of a successful Indonesia Super League-winning season with Persib Bandung.
Laos: Soukaphone Vongchiengkham, 22 – Forward (Saraburi)
Laos showed they could cause the big guns a few problems back in last month’s qualifiers, when they played some brilliant football before ultimately being pipped to top spot by Myanmar after a final day 2-1 loss.
Although the likes of Khampheng Sayavutthi and Ketsada Souksavanh played important roles, Thim Xad’s star man was undoubtedly Soukaphone Vongchiengkham – who proved an unstoppable force in the attacking third.
Apart from being blessed with blistering speed and excellent technique, the 22-year-old also knows when to release the ball and when to go it on his own, and is capable of tearing apart defences with his skill and vision.
Malaysia: Shukor Adan, 35 – Defender (FELDA United)
Plenty of talk has surrounded Malaysia coach Dollah Salleh’s decision to plump for experience this Suzuki Cup, with many questioning if the likes of Shukor Adan and Indra Putra Mahayuddin can still cut it at the highest level.
To be fair, they have both had excellent years in the Malaysia Premier League with FELDA United and Shukor’s inclusion could turn out to be a masterstroke by the Harimau Malaya boss.
With Aidil Zafuan ruled out through injury, neither Muslim Ahmad nor Fadhli Shas have impressed in recent friendlies and the experienced Shukor could just be the answer to Malaysia’s centre-back problems with his experience and robust defending.
Myanmar: Kyaw Ko Ko, 21 – Forward (Yangon United)
Two years ago, the one Myanmar player that was the name on everyone’s lips was Kyi Lin, who showed glimpses of breath-taking talent despite his side missing out on the semi-finals.
However, he has had a wretched run with injuries since but his absence has not been felt as much by the White Angels largely due to a 21-year-old named Kyaw Ko Ko.
The Yangon United man proved his ability to perform on the big stage this year after six goals in the AFC Cup, and he is likely to be Myanmar’s focal point in attack for the next decade or so.
Philippines: Phil Younghusband, 27 – Forward (Loyola Meralco Sparks)
Still only 27, Phil Younghusband is already the all-time top scorer for Philippines with a phenomenal record of 40 goals in 66 caps since making his debut in 2006.
In recent times, the Loyola Meralco Sparks man has played in a variety of attacking roles but many still believe he does his best work when deployed as an out-and-out striker due to his clinical finishing and uncanny ability of making his way into the right positions.
Younghusband may only have netted twice in previous editions of the Suzuki Cup but they both came in crucial victories over Vietnam and Myanmar in 2010 and 2012 respectively, and Philippines fans will be hoping he emerges as the man of the moment once again this year.
Singapore: Hassan Sunny, 30 – Goalkeeper (Warriors FC)
It’s perhaps strange that we have plumped for a goalkeeper given Singapore boast plenty of seasoned campaigners in Amri, Shahril and Baihakki Khaizan, but make no mistake – the Lions’ fortunes at the Suzuki Cup will be heavily influenced by Hassan Sunny.
Winning the S.League title with Warriors this season and becoming the first custodian to win the competition’s Player of the Year award only served to emphasise how the 30-year-old is now Southeast Asia’s best goalkeeper.
And with the Lions defence looking shaky in recent friendlies, Hassan’s ability to singlehandedly keep opposition forwards at bay will be vital to his side’s chances.
Thailand: Chanathip Songkrasin, 21 – Midfielder (BEC Tero Sasana)
Missing famous names like Teerasil, Datsakorn Thonglao, Theerathon Bunmathan and Jakkapan Pornsai, it would have been easy to write off Thailand’s title prospects, yet the fact they are widely regarded as favourites is testament to the talent at Kiatisuk’s disposal.
A large crop of his 22-man squad were members of the gold-medal winning side at last year’s Southeast Asian Games and the team that finished fourth at the 17th Asian Games, but the one man that is looming as their most influential player is Chanathip Songkrasin.
With terrific dribbling ability, visionary passing and a good shot, the pint-sized attacking midfielder has a wide array of weapons to hurt opponents and he is also no stranger to the senior stage, having played for the Thais at the last Suzuki Cup.
Vietnam: Nguyen Van Quyet, 23 – Forward (Ha Noi T&T)
For too long, Vietnam have regularly turned to golden boy Le Cong Vinh as the answer to any attacking woes and even recently, plenty of attentions has been given to 22-year-old Mac Hong Quan, who was born and bred in the Czech Republic and was formerly on the books of Sparta Prague.
The one man that has quietly slipped under the radar has been Nguyen Van Quyet but those who have monitored his progress in the V.League 1, as well as this season’s AFC Cup, will be aware of the threat he can pose.
While he usually starts in a wide attacking position, Van Quyet’s tireless running and clever off-the-ball movement inevitably sees him take up dangerous positions in the box, where he is equally capable of delivering a killer pass or pulling the trigger himself.
Other key players to look out for: Firman Utina (Indonesia), Khampheng Sayavutthi (Laos), Amri Yahyah (Malaysia), Yan Aung Kyaw (Myanmar), Rob Gier (Philippines), Shahril Ishak (Singapore), Kawin Thamsatchanan (Thailand), Le Tan Tai (Vietnam)