2014 AFF Suzuki Cup: Key Players & Men To Watch

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)

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2014 AFF Suzuki Cup: Hot Prospects & Young Guns

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)

Baihakki, Amri on target as Lions warm up with Laos win

Singapore recorded their first win in five matches on Thursday evening after beating Laos 2-0 in a friendly at the Yishun Stadium.

The Lions started the game brightly and took the lead after just five minutes when Baihakki found space inside the box, and proceeded to meet Shaiful Esah’s corner with a firm header past Soukthavy Soundala.

And two minutes after the half-hour mark, they doubled their tally after Faris Ramli played an inch-perfect cross to pick out Khairul Amri, who made no mistake in emphatically nodding the ball into the back of the net.

With a two-goal advantage in possession, the hosts were never in danger of losing control of the tie and continued to dominate proceedings.

Nonetheless, they were just unable to add to their tally although Singapore coach Bernd Stange is likely to be relieved that his side were finally able to end their winless streak, especially with their 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup Group B campaign kicking off in just nine days.

The Lions’ final warm-up match for the tournament will be on Monday when they entertain Cambodia, while Laos will be finalising their preparations before heading to Hanoi to take on Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines in Group A.

Singapore: Hassan Sunny, Ismadi Mukhtar (Al-Qaasimy Rahman 55’), Baihakki Khaizan (Amirul Adli 87’), Safuwan Baharudin, Shaiful Esah, Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman (Zulfahmi Arifin 83’), Faris Ramli, Shahril Ishak (Shahfiq Ghani 76’), Khairul Amri (Fazrul Nawaz 79’), Sahil Suhaimi (Khairul Nizam 55’).

Laos: Soukthavy Soundala, Saynakhonevieng Phommapanya, Ketsada Souksavanh, Saison Khounsamnan (Keoviengpheth Lithideth 46’), Sengdao Inthilath (Bounthavy Sipasong 63’), Tiny Bounmalay, Phoutdavy Phommasane (Paseuthsack Souliyavong 46’), Vilayout Sayyabounsou (Phattana Syvilay 76’), Soukaphone Vongchiengkham (Phoutthasay Khochalern 76’), Khonesavanh Sihavong, Khampheng Sayavutthi.

Myanmar edge Laos to finish top of Suzuki Cup qualifiers

Myanmar sealed top spot in the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers on Monday evening after recording a 2-1 win over Laos at the New Laos National Stadium.

The White Angels took the lead in the 42nd minute when Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit latched onto Min Min Thu’s over-the-top pass, before sending a sublime first-time shot into the bottom corner.

Laos had a golden opportunity to pull level on the hour mark after Aung Zaw had committed a foul on Soukaphone Vongchiengkham inside the box; only for the talented forward to blaze over from the spot.

Myanmar then were awarded a penalty of their own ten minutes from time when Kyaw Ko Ko was brought down inside the area, and the Yangon United man made no mistake in finding the back of the net to effectively end the contest.

The hosts did eventually grab a consolation when another spot-kick was awarded as Ketsada Souksavanh converted from 12 yards, but it was ultimately too little too late as their opponents held out for the win.

As a result of finishing top, Myanmar will now head into Group B to take on Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, setting up an enticing reunion between coach Radojko Avramovic and his former Lions side, whom he led to three Suzuki Cup titles in 2004, 2007 and 2012.

Meanwhile, Thim Xad will be heading to Hanoi to face Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines in Group A.

In Monday’s other clash at the Chao Anouvong Stadium, Chhin Chhoeun scored the only goal of the game to hand Cambodia a 1-0 win over Brunei, sealing third spot for the Angkor Warriors in the process.

Myanmar: Thiha Sithu, Nay Myo Aung, Aung Zaw, Zaw Min Tun, Khin Maung Lwin, Chit Su Moe, Min Min Thu (Ye Win Aung 88’), David Htan (Yan Aung Kyaw 41’), Kyi Lin (Aung Kyaw Naing 81’), Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit, Kyaw Ko Ko.

Laos: Seng Athit Somvang, Bounthavy Sipasong, Oudomsith Singlatsomboun (Saison Khounsamnan 71’), Ketsada Souksavanh, Khamla Pinkeo (Sengdao Inthilath 37’), Tiny Bounmalay, Paseuthsack Souliyavong, Phattana Syvilay, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham, Phoutthasay Khochalern, Sitthideth Khantavong (Khonesavanh Sihavong 46’).

Laos, Myanmar complete AFF Suzuki Cup line-up

The line-up for the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup was completed on Saturday after Laos and Myanmar both claimed victories in the qualification round.

Laos, who have been in dominant form since the opening day, stayed top and sealed a top-two finish after cruising to a 2-0 win over Timor Leste.

Thim Xad took the lead in the 32nd minute after a fantastic counter saw Vilayout Sayyabounsou burst free down the left before playing the ball into the path of Soukaphone Vongchiengkham, who in turn picked out Khonesavanh Sihavong.

Although the winger could have gone for goal himself, he unselfishly laid it off to the rampaging Phoutthasay Khochalern, who proceeded to send a powerful drive past Ramos Maxanches.

And four minutes after the hour mark, they went on to seal the victory when Vilayout played an inch-perfect pass for Soukaphone Vongchiengkham to latch onto; the 22-year racing towards goal before coolly placing his shot into the bottom corner.

The result also meant Myanmar, who beat Cambodia 1-0 in Saturday’s earlier game, are through given there is no way they can finish lower than second.

Despite at times toiling against their unfancied opponents, the White Angels ultimately did enough for a narrow win when Kyaw Ko Ko sent Sou Yaty the wrong way from the penalty spot in the 42nd minute, after Sok Sovan had been penalised for handling Khin Maung Lwin’s cross inside the box.

 Saturday’s 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup Qualifying Results

Cambodia 0-1 Myanmar

Laos 2-0 Timor Leste

Myanmar held by Timor Leste; second win for Laos

Myanmar’s 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup qualification began on Tuesday with a 0-0 draw against Timor Leste at the New Laos National Stadium.

Radojko Avramovic’s charges came closest to taking the lead in the first half two minutes after the half-hour mark; Kyaw Ko Ko receiving a layoff from Yan Aung Kyaw and curling an excellent attempt back off the bar.

However, it was the Timorese who looked the more dangerous of the two sides as they game wore to a close, although they were just unable to find a way past Thiha Sithu and his resilient Myanmar defence.

In the earlier game at the New Laos National Stadium, hosts Laos made it two wins in a row as they saw off Brunei with a 4-2 victory.

The Bruneians gifted their opponents the opener after only three minutes when Shahrulrizal Abdul Rahman’s failure to control a high ball allowed Khampheng Sayavutthi to run through on goal.

Although his initial attempt drew a smart save from Azman Ilham, there was little the Brunei custodian could do to prevent Soukaphone Vongchiengkham from tapping home on the rebound.

Just three minutes later, Soukaphone struck again – this time after a moment of inspiration – as he cut inside Helmi Zambin before sending a bullet of a shot into the top corner.

Awangku Fakharrazi did however pull one back for Tebuan in the 33rd minute and on this occasion, it was a Laos player who made a costly mistake after goalkeeper Soukthavy Soundala was caught out of position and allowed a looping cross-cum-shot to end up in his goal.

Nonetheless, Shahrulrizal made another mistake four minutes into the second half when he was caught out by Khampheng, who made his way past Azman before restoring his side’s two-goal cushion with an easy finish.

And eight minutes after the hour mark, the result was put beyond doubt when Thim Xad added a fourth; Soukaphone initiating a well-worked move that ended with him getting on the end of Khonesavanh Sihavong’s return pass and firing into the bottom corner.

To their credit, Brunei refused to give in and reduced the deficit again in the 88th minute when Soukthavy’s failure to deal with an Azwan Saleh freekick allowed Shahrazen Said to send a glancing header into the back of the net.

Still, it proved to be little more than a consolation as Laos held out for the win to keep their hopes of qualifying for the Suzuki Cup firmly on track.

Tuesday’s 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup Qualifying Results

Brunei 2-4 Laos

Myanmar 0-0 Timor Leste

Hosts Laos, Timor Leste off to winning start in qualifiers

Laos kicked off their 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-2 victory over neighbours Cambodia at the New Laos National Stadium in Vientiane on Sunday.

Following a goalless first half, the hosts took the lead ten minutes after the break when Khonesavanh Sihavong escaped the clutches of Say Piseth and Rous Samoen to latch onto a long ball and fire past Sou Yaty.

They then doubled their advantage 15 minutes later when Khampheng Sayavutthi timed his run to perfection to meet Soukaphone Vongchiengkham’s left-wing cross and finished into the far corner.

However, the Cambodians pulled one back in the 73rd minute after Khoun Laboravy received possession and cut inside Ketsada Souksavanh, before lashing his shot into the back of the net.

And just two minutes later, the Royal Khmers remarkably pulled level as Laboravy turned provider; causing all sorts of problems for the opposition defence before squaring the ball for Sok Chanrasmey to turn home with his knees.

But just when it looked like a draw was on the cards, Laos went on to claim maximum points as Khampheng emerged as the hero by lining up a freekick on the edge of the box and unleashing a stunning strike into the bottom corner for the winner.

In Sunday’s earlier game, Timor Leste claimed top spot after recording a 4-2 triumph over Brunei.

The Timorese had initially edged ahead through Murilo de Almeida’s sixth-minute opener, only for Adi Said to cancel it out with a goal of his own five minutes after the half-hour mark.

Tebuan then went in front four minutes before halftime after Awangku Fakharazzi was left with a simple finish past Ramos Maxanches, but their opponents were able to respond in the 70th minute when Murilo struck again after latching onto an over-the-top and slotting past Wardun Yussof.

Murilo then completed his hat-trick ten minutes later as he once again raced in behind the opponents’ defence to score, before Patrick Fabiano made sure of the victory with a neat finish two minutes from time.

Sunday’s 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup Qualifying Results

Timor Leste 4-2 Brunei

Laos 3-2 Cambodia