2014 AFF Suzuki Cup Team of the Tournament

The final ball has been kicked and it is Thailand who have emerged triumphant after being crowned champions of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Given they were widely regarded as favourites before the tournament began, it should come as no surprise that they have reclaimed their status as the number one side in Southeast Asia for the first time since 2002.

Over the past month, several members of the War Elephants established themselves as national heroes following their pivotal roles in bringing a fourth regional crown back to Thailand, including the likes of Kawin Thamsatchanan, Chanathip Songkrasin and Charyl Chappuis.

However, a number of players from Malaysia can also hold their heads high after leading their side to an impressive – and what many assumed was impossible – run to the final, while Philippines and Vietnam also gave a good account of themselves before ultimately falling at the semi-final stage.

Here, Football SEA picks our best players from the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup in a 4-2-3-1 formation, including seven substitutes, as well as our top coach from the tournament.

GK: Kawin Thamsatchanan (Thailand)

He may not have been the busiest of goalkeepers given the Thais dominated almost all their matches, but – whenever he was called upon – Kawin proved to be equal to the task.

The Muangthong United man’s finest game was arguably the 0-0 draw against Philippines in the first leg of the semi-finals, when he refused to be beaten even after his side were reduced to ten men following Adisak Kraisorn’s dismissal.

Kawin got better as the tournament wore on and kept a vital clean sheet in the first leg of the final after producing fine stops to deny Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Indra Putra Mahayuddin, which went a long way in helping the Thais claim the title.

RB: Simone Rota (Philippines)

If there were doubts over who Philippines’ first-choice right-back was ahead of the tournaments, there should no longer be any after Rota’s determined displays throughout the tournament.

The 30-year-old’s campaign got off to a fine start when he opened the Azkals’ account with a well-taken equaliser in the 4-1 Group A win over Laos, which helped settle their nerves after Khampheng Sayavutthi had fired their opponents in front.

Rota came face to face with some of the region’s most-dangerous wingers, including Zulham Zamrun and Kroekrit Thaweekarn, but never lowered his colours apart from one testing encounter against Vietnam’s Pham Thanh Luong during the group stage.

CB: Shukor Adan (Malaysia)

Alas, it was not to be for the 35-year-old as he failed to finish off his international career with a Suzuki Cup winner’s medal.

But Shukor will have no shame in the manner in which he signed off on his 14 years with Malaysia, especially given how many questioned his selection in the squad before the start of the tournament.

Handed the captain’s armband by Harimau Malaya coach Dollah Salleh, Shukor relished the challenge of leading his troops and at times looked to be the only one holding the shaky backline together, and was arguably his side’s best player throughout.

CB: Tanaboon Kesarat (Thailand)

With Thailand boss Kiatisuk Senamuang opting to leave out experienced defenders like Panupong Wongsa, Chonlatit Jantakam and Nataporn Phanrit, many wondered how the backline would hold up against the region’s deadliest strikers.

To be fair, it was in defence where the War Elephants looked the most vulnerable at times but they ultimately got the job done, and Tanaboon deserves plenty of credit for the way he stepped up despite his tender years.

Blessed with an ability to read the play, strong physical attributes as well as good technique, the future looks extremely bright for the 21-year-old, who also showed in the 2-0 Group B victory over Myanmar that he’s more than capable of being deployed in midfield.

LB: Peerapat Notechaiya (Thailand)

Peerapat started the tournament as Kiatisuk’s first-choice left-back in the 2-1 win over Singapore, although a niggling injury then saw him replaced by veteran Chayapat Kitpongsritada in the next two games.

But once he regained full fitness, the BEC Tero Sasana starlet was straight back into the team and displayed remarkable maturity for a 21-year-old, as well as impressing with his tireless running down the flank.

Thailand may currently be blessed with a host of talented left-backs, including 2013 Thai Premier League Player of the Year Theerathon Bunmathan, but Peerapat could just make the position his own if he continues to develop and realise his full potential.

CM: Sarach Yooyen (Thailand)

Given the number of famous names in the Thailand side, it was perhaps easy to overlook a pint-sized defensive midfielder by the name of Sarach Yooyen, although those who did notice him would be aware of just how important he was to the team.

Despite his slight frame, the Muangthong youngster had plenty of bite in his challenges as he looked to shield his defenders, but it was the way he broke up opposition attacks with his understanding of the game that made him stand out as an anchorman.

Once he had won possession, he was always looking to get his team on the front foot with his precise distribution, and he was also never afraid to have a go himself; his blistering freekick in the second leg of the final that forced Farizal Marlias into a flying save eventually led to Chappuis’ pivotal strike.

CM: Safiq Rahim (Malaysia)

It can be argued that Safiq still did not display his true ability despite finishing the tournament as the top scorer with six goals, and playing as a traditional central midfielder no less.

Given his obvious talent, the Johor Darul Ta’zim playmaker did not always get into the game and lacked the urgency in several key moments when his side needed it badly.

But for sheer impact and ability to keep his nerve in the biggest moments, Safiq gets the nod after his four clinically-taken penalties, along with a fine individual effort and a sublime freekick, helped Harimau Malaya get as close to winning the title as they did.

RW: Amri Yahyah (Malaysia)

Along with Shukor, Amri was perhaps the one Malaysian player that emerged from the tournament with plenty of credit to his name.

His selflessness and versatility have always been known to fans given how he’s often been deployed as a winger rather than his favoured position as a striker, but the way he – at times – looked to singlehandedly drag his side over the line was nothing short of inspirational.

Amri may have finished the tournament with only one goal to his name but much of the good work he produced was done in the build-up, and he did almost provide the goal of the tournament in the 3-2 Group B loss to Thailand after his stunning 60-yard lob over Kawin came crashing back off the bar.

AM: Phil Younghusband (Philippines)

For the third tournament in a row, the Azkals progressed to the last four to reaffirm their status as one of Southeast Asia’s major forces.

Despite having got among the goals in 2010 and 2012, Younghusband unfairly entered the tournament with queries from some quarters over his big-game mentality, despite being Philippines’ all-time top scorer at the age of 27.

By the time his side had played their opening two matches, those doubts had been emphatically dispelled with two goals and three assists to his name and although he failed to add to that tally thereafter, he often loomed as his side’s likeliest source of something special and seemed to excel playing as a second striker.

LW: Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)

Granted, it was Kroekrit Thaweekarn, and not Chanathip, that was Thailand’s first-choice left winger throughout the tournament but given the way the latter freely roamed the pitch, is it really possible to pinpoint a fixed position where he was deployed in?

One thing is for certain – whenever he received the ball in the attacking third, he was almost always unstoppable with his phenomenal control, sublime dribbling and blistering pace.

Nonetheless, he also bucked the trend of most silky attackers by regularly looking for his team-mates rather than go it on his own, and was deservedly named the Most Valuable Player of the competition.

ST: Le Cong Vinh (Vietnam)

Before the start of the tournament, there were rumours that coach Toshiya Miura was considering leaving Cong Vinh out of his final 22 and, following a couple of quiet years at club level, it was certainly fair to ponder if we had seen the best of the one-time golden boy of Vietnam.

While his campaign may have begun on the bench, it took him just 13 minutes to make an impact after coming on as a second-half substitute in the 2-2 draw against Indonesia; latching onto a weak clearance header and sending a spectacular first-time volley into the top corner.

Cong Vinh went on to finish the campaign with four goals to his name, including a well-taken brace in the 4-2 loss to Malaysia in the second leg of the semi-finals, and was the most-impressive spearhead in a tournament that really lacked genuine quality from the out-and-out strikers.

Coach: Kiatisuk Senamuang (Thailand)

A gold medal at last year’s Southeast Asian Games and a remarkable fourth-place finish at this year’s Asian Games – was there anything left for Kiatisuk to achieve?

The answer was a resounding yes as the legendary former Thailand striker became the first person to win the Suzuki Cup both as a player and coach, gaining a new legion of fans across the region in the process for his cool demeanour on the touchline, as well as the way he always conducted himself with immense class.

Kiatisuk’s reputation has now been further enhanced by the fact that he is the man that ended the War Elephants’ 12-year wait to reclaim the AFF crown, which was made even more impressive by the fact that the average age of his squad was just 24.

The future is bright for Thailand, and the future is certainly bright for Kiatisuk.


GK: Hassan Sunny (Singapore)

Hassan ultimately did not get much of a chance to prove his worth given Singapore’s disappointing group-stage exit, although he was one of the Lions’ best performers and continues to rival Kawin as the region’s number one goalkeeper.

FB: Zulkifli Syukur (Indonesia)

One of just two Indonesia players to start all three Group A games, Zulkifli – at times – looked like the only player in the side with a remote idea of how to defend, and deserves credit for the way he regularly covered Achmad Jufriyanto and Muhammad Roby.

CB: Le Phuoc Tu (Vietnam)

At 30, Phuoc Tu was the oldest player in the Vietnam side along with Le Tan Tai but more than held his own against younger, faster and fitter opponents, only to be ultimately let down by some shambolic defending from Dinh Tien Thanh, Nguyen Van Bien and goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh in the 4-2 semi-final second-leg loss to the Malaysians.

CM: Charyl Chappuis (Thailand)

The new poster boy of Thai football – Chappuis certainly proved he is capable of delivering the goods after grabbing four goals, although he still has room for improvement given the way he went quiet for significant periods in a couple of matches, as well as his tendency to go for the killer pass too often.

WG: Vu Minh Tuan (Vietnam)

While many expected Nguyen Van Quyet to be Vietnam’s brightest spark before the tournament began, he failed to really fire and instead it was Minh Tuan who proved to be a real threat down the right with his enterprising runs and direct style of play that really caused problems for his opponents, especially against Laos and Philippines.

FW: Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Malaysia)

Although the veteran did not start any of Malaysia’s first four matches, he had such an impact coming off the bench that it was impossible for Dollah to leave him out thereafter, and he went on to become Harimau Malaya’s most-creative outlet in the attacking third in their charge to a runners-up finish.

ST: Khairul Amri (Singapore)

Like Cong Vinh, Amri was one of the few out-and-out strikers that managed to put in a series of consistent displays, even though he only had three games to showcase his abilities. His dominant display as a target-man in Singapore’s 2-1 opening day defeat to Thailand set the standard, and he always gave opposition defenders something to think about.

Thailand down Malaysia to win 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup

Thailand were crowned champions of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup on Saturday after claiming a 4-3 aggregate win over Malaysia in the final.

Despite entering Saturday’s return encounter at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium with a comfortable two-goal cushion from the first leg, it looked as though the Thais had thrown it all away after allowing Malaysia to lead 2-0 at halftime.

First, the hosts were awarded a controversial penalty when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha went down inside the box under Suttinun Phuk-hom’s challenge despite appearing to be little contact between the two.

It was talismanic playmaker Safiq that stepped up to the spot for the Malaysians and, just like he had done on three previous occasions in the tournament, showed no signs of nerves as he sent Kawin Thamsatchanan the wrong way to open the scoring.

The War Elephants did have a number of chances to pull level with Peerapat Notechaiya sending a lovely curling effort back off the woodwork in the 13th minute, before Kroekrit Thaweekarn wasted a trio of chances after finding himself in good positions.

Just before the break, the hosts doubled their lead on the night when Norshahrul did well to hold up play down the right before floating a cross to the back post, where Indra Putra Mahayuddin proceeded to capitalise on a rare moment of indecision by Kawin and nodded the ball into the back of the net.

Remarkably, Harimau Malaya then scored a third – and edged ahead 3-2 on aggregate – two minutes before the hour mark when Safiq Rahim curled a sublime freekick past Kawin’s despairing dive, after Norshahrul had been hauled down outside the box by Suttinun.

It could – and perhaps should – have been 4-0 on the night four minutes later when Amri Yahyah cut the ball back from the right into the path of Safee Sali, but, despite having plenty of the goal to aim for, he somehow sent his shot straight into Indra Putra.

That miss came back to haunt Dollah Salleh’s charges with eight minutes remaining when the Thais themselves were awarded a freekick in a promising situation.

Sarach Yooyen lined up the set-piece and fired a lovely effort towards goal and although his shot drew a fantastic save from Farizal Marlias, Charyl Chappuis reacted quickest to the rebound and slotted into the bottom corner.

With the aggregate scores now level at 3-3, it was the Thais who were headed for the title due to the away goals rule.

But in the 87th minute, they went on to make sure of the triumph after hitting forward on the counter; Adisak Kraisorn laying the ball off to Chanathip Songkrasin, who steadied himself before lashing a rocket of a shot past Farizal into the back of the net.

Moments later, the final whistle went and it was Thailand who were left celebrating their fourth AFF title – equalling Singapore’s record in the process – and their first since 2002.

Malaysia: Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan, Shukor Adan, Afif Amiruddin (Muslim Ahmad 69’), Zubir Azmi, Badhri Radzi, Safiq Rahim, Azamuddin Akil (Safee Sali 13’), Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Gary Robbat 78’), Amri Yahyah, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha.

Thailand: Kawin Thamsatchanan, Narubodin Weerawatnodom, Suttinun Phuk-hom, Tanaboon Kesarat, Peerapat Notechaiya, Sarach Yooyen, Charyl Chappuis, Chanathip Songkrasin, Prakit Deeprom (Sarawut Masuk 63’), Kroekrit Thaweekarn (Adul Lahso 89’), Adisak Kraisorn.

Thailand claim AFF final advantage over Malaysia

Thailand are 90 minutes away from being crowned champions of Southeast Asia for a fourth time after claiming a 2-0 win over Malaysia in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final.

Following a goalless first half at the Rajamangala Stadium, Charyl Chappuis opened the scoring with a penalty in the 72nd minute before Kroekrit Thaweekarn added a second four minutes from time to seal the win on Wednesday evening.

The Thais will now head into Saturday’s second leg at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium knowing even a one-goal defeat would be enough to hand them their first regional title since 2002.

However, although the victory was a deserving result given the way they dominated proceedings for much of the first leg, it did look as though the War Elephants could live to regret their initial profligacy after wasting a host of excellent chances.

Their first clear-cut opportunity arrived after just four minutes when Narubodin Weerawatnodom charged forward on the overlap before cutting the ball back to Monkol Tossagri, only for him to blaze over from ten yards.

Two minutes later, Malaysia had an opening for their own when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha latched onto Indra Putra Mahayuddin’s deft flick, only for his blistering half-volley to be kept out by a fine save from Kawin Thamsatchanan.

Kroekrit was next to threaten for the hosts when he fired a low shot into the side-netting before Sarach Yooyen had a long-range strike smothered by Farizal Marlias, but their best chance came two minutes before the break.

Pouncing on an error from Fadhli Shas, Adisak Kraisorn broke free and raced through on goal but, despite looking odds on to open the scoring, he could only fire a low shot into the right foot of Farizal, who looked on in relief as the ball looped past the post and to safety.

Undeterred by that miss, the Thais continued to press on in the second half but Monkol was wasteful again nine minutes after the break, lashing over on the half-volley after being picked out inside the area by Narubodin’s right-wing pass.

Adisak too was beginning to increasingly find himself in dangerous positions and he was unlucky to send a ferocious left-footed strike on the turn over two minutes later, after doing well to break free inside the box and run onto a throw-in from Narubodin.

By now, Malaysia were really starting to find themselves on the back foot but they still looked threatening on the counter; Safiq Rahim giving the Thais a warning in the 62nd minute when his snapshot was kept out by a vital block from Suttinun Phuk-hom after he had exchanged passes with Norshahrul just outside the box.

Nonetheless, the breakthrough did finally arrive in the 70th minute when Farizal could only parry Chanathip Songkrasin’s long-range drive and Prakit Deeprom reacted quickest to help the ball back into the danger zone.

Adisak was once again on hand to receive possession but was felled by Fadhli just as he was about to turn towards goal, winning the hosts a penalty that was clinically fired into the bottom corner by Chappuis.

But despite now having a lead to sit back on, the War Elephants continued to push forward in search of a second goal to strengthen their position ahead of what is bound to be a tough return encounter in hostile conditions in Kuala Lumpur at the weekend.

And in the 86th minute, they did just that as Chanathip latched onto Prakit’s incisive through-pass and advanced on goal, before unselfishly squaring the ball to leave Kroekrit with the simplest of finishes.

Still, Harimau Malaya could have pulled one back – and grab a valuable away goal in the process – deep into injury-time when Indra Putra met a deep cross with a deft header that was destined for the top corner, but Kawin was able to claw it to safety and cap off a perfect evening’s work for Thailand.

Thailand: Kawin Thamsatchanan, Narubodin Weerawatnodom, Suttinun Phuk-hom, Tanaboon Kesarat, Peerapat Notechaiya, Sarach Yooyen (Adul Lahso 90’), Charyl Chappuis, Chanathip Songkrasin, Monkol Tossagri (Prakit Deeprom 69’), Kroekrit Thaweekarn, Adisak Kraisorn.

Malaysia: Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan, Shukor Adan, Fadhli Shas, Zubir Azmi, Safiq Rahim, Badhri Radzi (Baddrol Bakhtiar 76’), Azamuddin Akil, Indra Putra Mahayuddin, Amri Yahyah (Safee Sali 76’), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha.

Dollah not keen on changing Malaysia’s winning formula

Malaysia boss Dollah Salleh is expected to stick with the same starting XI that booked a meeting with Thailand in the final of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Having fallen to a 2-1 defeat at home to Vietnam in the first leg of their semi-final clash, Harimau Malaya’s hopes of advancing looked effectively over but they produced a stunning performance to turn the tie on its head by claiming a 4-2 victory at the My Dinh National Stadium last Thursday.

Dollah deserved plenty of credit for that shock result given he had opted to drop regulars such as Khairul Fahmi and Mahali Jasuli in favour of Farizal Marlias and Indra Putra Mahayuddin.

And the 51-year-old claims it is almost certain he will go with the same line-up on Wednesday when they face the War Elephants in the first leg of the final at the Rajamangala Stadium.

“I think I will field the same team which played in the [second leg of the] semi-final,” he said. “All the players did well and we just need to work on a few things.

“Hopefully we can do the same in Bangkok as we did in Hanoi.

“I did not expect us to play that well so it is a good sign.”

One player that has been crucial for the Malaysians is captain Shukor Adan, who has belied his increasing years with some rock-solid displays in defence.

The 35-year-old has been under an injury cloud as of late, although Dollah is optimistic he will fit to take on Thailand and have a positive impact, along with fellow veteran Indra Putra Mahayuddin.

“He went to hospital this morning [Tuesday] but, according to the team doctor, he should be okay to play,” the Harimau Malaya boss revealed.

“Shukor is especially important – he is our team captain and a very big part of the team.

“He organises well at the back [but] even Indra has done very well so far. I believe these two players are the main men in the team.”

The former Malaysia international did however warn that his charges had to be wary of certain individuals in the War Elephants side, especially after they were beaten 3-2 by the same opponents back in the group stage.

“Chanathip [Songkrasin] plays like Lionel Messi,” Dollah added. “It is not easy to mark him.

“Kroekrit [Thaweekarn] is tricky with his movements and is now probably confident after netting two goals against Philippines in the semi-final.

“Adisak [Kraisorn] does not miss many chances [as] he showed when he netted two goals against us in the group stage.”

Malaysia’s first and only win in the Suzuki Cup so far came back in 2010, when they beat Indonesia 4-2 on aggregate in the final.

Adisak keen to make amends in Suzuki Cup final

Adisak Kraisorn will be looking to repay the faith Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang has shown in him by helping his side beat Malaysia in the final of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup.

After playing a key role in the War Elephants reaching the knockout round by grabbing a crucial brace in their 3-2 win over Malaysia in the group stage, Adisak’s campaign turned sour in the first leg of the semi-finals when he was sent off against Philippines for violent behaviour.

However, although he was suspended for the return encounter, his team-mates coped admirably without him as they claimed a 3-0 win over the Azkals at the Rajamangala Stadium to set up a final encounter with Malaysia, which begins with Wednesday’s first leg in Bangkok.

With Kirati Keawsombat still struggling with injury, it is likely that Kiatisuk will reintroduce the BEC Tero Sasana striker straight back into his starting XI, and the 23-year-old admits he is raring to prove his worth once more.

“I am glad that my team-mates did very well to send our team to the final,” he said, on the tournament’s official website.

“Malaysia are one of the strongest teams in Southeast Asia and I will try to score against them to help our team win the title.”

It appears that Adisak’s rashness in the first game against Philippines has not had any long-term repercussions, with Kiatisuk claiming his young charge had learnt from the incident.

“We wanted to advance to the final to show our support for Adisak,” he had said following their last match.

“Adisak now understands that he made a mistake in the previous match; he wants to return and show the fans what he’s capable of again.

“He has not lost any of his confidence and is training hard in preparation to make an impact in the final.”

One player that has been a constant for the Thais so far is goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan, who has played all but one game so far – a 2-0 win over Myanmar in the final group game when he was rested after his side had already booked their place in the last four.

Having been part of the side that lost in the final to Singapore two years ago, the Muangthong United custodian is determined to go all the way this time round.

“In the last edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup, we came close to the title,” he said.

“To play two finals in a row is a difficult job but I would like to tell the Thailand fans that we are eager to play in the last two games and win the title.

“We will have 50,000 fans cheering us on [at the Rajamangala Stadium on Wednesday] and we are very well prepared.”

Delighted Dollah has faith Malaysia can win Suzuki Cup

Dollah Salleh believes his Malaysia side can win the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup if they can produce a repeat of Thursday’s stunning 4-2 win over Vietnam in the second leg of their semi-final.

Having been beaten 2-1 at home in the first leg at the weekend, Harimau Malaya turned the tie completed on its head with a scintillating display at the My Dinh National Stadium to claim a 5-4 aggregate victory and set up a final meeting with Thailand.

Although few would argue Malaysia are not deserving of their place in the decider, the War Elephants are widely regarded as favourites given their dominant displays throughout the tournament thus far.

However, Dollah insists his side can have plenty of reason to be optimistic if they can play like they did on Sunday.

“The players did well in this match,” he said. “We had four chances in the first half and the players made them count.

“I didn’t expect us to score four goals to win the match. The players did exceptionally well and I’m proud of them for this win, as I’ve only been with the team for a short time.

“If we can repeat this performance, we can go further.”

Meanwhile, Vietnam coach Toshiya Miura admitted his side chose the worst possible occasion to produce their sloppiest display, although he insists complacency had not been a factor in their demise.

“This was our worst performance after playing four matches,” the Japanese tactician said.

“We didn’t play well in the first half and it cost us the game. When we did get it right, it was too late.

“[But] I don’t think it was because the players already thought they had qualified for the final.”

Malaysia stun Vietnam to set up Suzuki Cup final with Thailand

Malaysia are through to the final of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup after beating Vietnam 4-2 in Thursday’s semi-final second leg to claim a 5-4 aggregate victory.

Having fallen to a 2-1 loss at the Shah Alam Stadium in Sunday’s opening encounter, the odds were firmly stacked against Harimau Malaya given they had conceded two vital away goals, and were also coming up against a team that had conceded just thrice at home in the tournament.

However, they were handed the perfect chance to draw first blood in the third minute when a perfectly-weighted pass by Norshahrul Idlan Talaha found Indra Putra Mahayuddin, who had his heels clipped by Que Ngoc Hai just as he was about to pull the trigger.

Safiq Rahim stepped up and fired home the penalty that had been awarded but the referee called for a retake due to encroachment by the Malaysian players, although all that did was delay the inevitable as the Johor Darul Ta’zim playmaker went the same direction and found the bottom corner once more.

The hosts then had a couple of half-chances to get back into the contest with Le Cong Vinh destined to meet Nguyen Van Quyet’s right-wing cross at the far post until S. Kunanlan made a vital clearance in the 14th minute, before Ngoc Hai had a low drive blocked after the resultant corner had been inadequately dealt with by Indra Putra’s weak header.

But just a minute later, Malaysia remarkably edged further ahead after a searching pass from Amri Yahyah made its way in between Dinh Tien Thanh and Nguyen Van Bien and found Norshahrul, who capitalised on some poor defending – and indecisive goalkeeping – to lift the ball over the onrushing Tran Nguyen Manh and fire into an unguarded net.

Vietnam were then awarded a penalty of their own in the 23rd minute and Cong Vinh made no mistake in sending Farizal Marlias the wrong way, after he had been illegally prevented from meeting a corner by Amri inside the area.

Nonetheless, just as it looked like the hosts had regained the momentum, the Malaysians netted the all-important third away goal a minute before the half-hour mark; Indra Putra running onto Badhri Radzi’s excellent diagonal pass and floating in a cross that Tien Thanh – in a bid to make an interception – could only connect with his thigh and send it looping over Nguyen Manh and into the back of his own net.

Incredibly, it was 4-1 two minutes before halftime when Badhri’s corner was nodded by Fadhli Shas into the path of Shukor Adan, who found himself completely unmarked eight yards out and glanced a header in off the foot of the post, and it looked as though the contest was all but over.

To their credit, the Vietnamese were determined to force their way back into the contest after halftime but were just unable to find a way through, with the likes of Shukor and Kunanlan all doing brilliant jobs to keep their opponents at bay.

In the end, the hosts were able to reduce the deficit further when Cong Vinh broke free inside the box in the 79th minute and sent an emphatic drive into the top corner, but it proved to be little more than a consolation as it was Harimau Malaya who were marching on to the final at the final whistle.

Dollah Salleh’s charges are now 180 minutes away from claiming their second Suzuki Cup title following their maiden triumph in 2010, although it will be far from easy coming up against a Thailand side that were regarded by many as favourites to win it even before the tournament began.

Vietnam: Tran Nguyen Manh, Que Ngoc Hai, Dinh Tien Thanh, Le Phuoc Tu, Nguyen Van Bien, Nguyen Huy Hung, Ngo Hoang Thinh (Le Tan Tai 37’, Nguyen Hai Anh 50’), Pham Thanh Luong, Nguyen Van Quyet, Vo Huy Toan (Mac Hong Quan 46’), Le Cong Vinh.

Malaysia: Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan, Shukor Adan, Fadhli Shas, Zubir Azmi, Azamuddin Akil, Badhri Radzi (Baddrol Bakhtiar 78’), Safiq Rahim, Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Muslim Ahmad 90’), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (Afif Amiruddin 87’), Amri Yahyah.

Buriram to face Gamba in ACL; tough tests await Binh Duong

Thai Premier League champions Buriram United will lock horns with Japanese giants Gamba Osaka in the 2015 AFC Champions League after both were drawn in Group F on Thursday.

The Thunder Castle, who have played in Asia’s premier club competition in the past three years, head into next season looking to emulate their stunning performances in 2013 – when they reached the quarter-finals before ultimately being eliminated by Esteghlal.

They would have been disappointed with their performances last season after winning just one match in a group that also included Pohang Steelers, Cerezo Osaka and Shandong Luneng Taishan.

However, their bid to advance to the knockout round in 2015 will also be a tricky one following Thursday’s draw, which will see them come up against newly-crowned J.League 1 champions Gamba.

The other group that has been drawn in the group are Korea Republic’s Seongnam, who won the Champions League back in 2010, while the final team will be decided through the playoffs, which could see Central Coast Mariners complete the Group F line-up.

Meanwhile, Becamex Binh Duong’s reward for winning the V.League 1 this year will be enticing ties against South Korean outfit Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, China’s Shandong Luneng Taishan and another team through the playoffs.

A total of seven other Southeast Asian sides will also be taking part in the Champions League, where they will be looking to book a spot in the group stage through the playoffs.

The first stage of qualifying will see Myanmar’s Yadanarbon lock horns with Singaporean champions Warriors FC, while big-spending Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia play Bengaluru of India.

Two Thai sides will then join the action in the second stage with Chonburi taking on Hong Kong’s Kitchee and Bangkok Glass meeting the winners of the Yadanarbon-Warriors tie.

Finally, V.League 1 side Ha Noi T&T will face Indonesia Super League champions Persib Bandung for a place in the final round of the playoffs, where a huge hurdle awaits in the form of FC Seoul.

Pahang to meet debutants Global; Balestier set for AFC bow

Malaysia FA Cup winners Pahang were pitted in Group G for the 2015 AFC Cup following Thursday’s draw in Kuala Lumpur.

Tok Gajah, who also won the Malaysia Cup this past season, will definitely meet Hong Kong’s South China and debutants Global, whose appearance marks Philippines’ bow in the competition.

The final team in Group G is set to be Myanmar giants Yadanarbon, although they will be replaced by Yangon United should they qualify for the group stage of the AFC Champions League.

Over in Group F, Singapore Cup champions Balestier Khalsa and are likely to meet Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta’zim and Kitchee of Hong Kong, who are both bidding to qualify for the first-tier competition, along with Indian outfit East Bengal.

Persib Bandung, another Champions League hopeful, are in Group H and will face off against Myanmar’s Ayeyawady United, Laotian debutants Lao FC and Maldivian giants New Radiant.

Finally in Group E, S.League champions Warriors – who will be replaced by Tampines Rovers if they qualify for the ACL – will meet Persipura Jayapura of Indonesian, a side from India, as well as the winners of the playoff between Filipino outfit Ceres and Maziya.

Aw takes charge of Home United after Lee departure

Singaporean giants Home United have parted ways with South Korean coach Lee Lim-saeng after confirming his resignation early on Thursday morning.

Lee was at the helm of the Protectors for five years after arriving in 2010 and twice led them to two Singapore Cup triumphs, as well as the Round of 16 in the AFC two years ago.

Nonetheless, he failed to achieve the ultimate goal of bringing the S.League title back to the Bishan Stadium, with his side finishing as runners-up in both 2011 and 2013.

His time at the club was also blighted by frequent fallouts with members of his squad on numerous occasions, which almost always inevitably resulted in an abrupt departure for the player.

Having once again set his sights on glory this past season, 2014 turned out to be another disappointing campaign for Home as they finished fourth in the league and fell to a shock 3-1 defeat to Balestier Khalsa in the final of the Singapore Cup.

In what was an even-more shocking turn of events, the club announced Prime League coach Philippe Aw as his replacement.

Aw’s association with the Protectors began way back in 1999 as a player and he gradually moved on to becoming a staff coach with the club, achieving plenty of success with the Prime League squad in 2014 as they went through the entire campaign unbeaten.

However, given the stature of Home, it was still a big surprise that they made to bold move to hand the reins to a coach who is a novice at senior level, although it was revealed he will “work closely together with a team of specialist coaches”.

Aw is also said to be “deeply entrenched in the values and philosophy” of the club and will begin his reign in the coming weeks as his side prepare for the 2015 season.