It has been an AFF Suzuki Cup to remember with a string of fine performances from an array of Southeast Asia’s biggest, best and newest stars. John Duerden names his team of the tournament:
GK: Dang Van Lam (Vietnam)
The 25-year-old had just secured his country’s No. 1 shirt as the tournament started and has spent the past month showing why. The giant goalie kept a clean sheet throughout the group stage, and was disciplined enough to pull off some fine saves even after lengthy periods of little to do. Confident and communicative, the Moscow-born Van Lam is here to stay.
LB: Martin Steuble (Philippines)
Swiss-born with an Alpine-like coolness, the 30-year-old is not the kind of player to make many headlines but he was once again impressive in the white shirt of the Philippines. Always seems in control but offers more than just composure. Steuble started out in the right-back position before jumping over to the left side to plug a gap there. Did the simple things competently and with assurance.
CB: Pansa Hemviboon (Thailand)
Cool, calm and collected in the middle of the Thai defence, had Adisak Kraisorn not ballooned that last-minute penalty over in Bangkok, the Buriram United centre-back would be winning more plaudits. A late developer in terms of international football, he is making up for lost time and will get another chance at the Asian Cup in January.
CB: Aidil Zafuan (Malaysia)
It is hard to split the central defensive partnership that provided the foundation for the Tigers’ march to the final but it has to be done with the JDT star getting the nod over Shahrul Saad. The 31-year-old has been an inspirational figure at the back, giving confidence to the entire team.
RB: Syahmi Safari (Malaysia)
One of the best aspects of tournaments is seeing a young player really make fans, on both sides, sit up and take notice. That image of the 20-year-old tearing down the wing with such abandon will be an enduring one of the tournament. His goal against Thailand in the semifinal was a magical moment and his late handball and red card was merely a reminder that he is just starting out on what should be a long and prosperous career.
MF: Sanrawat Dechmitr (Thailand)
OK, the Bangkok United man struggled in the semifinal to make an impact but that was because Malaysia made sure that he did not get much of the ball. And when he did, there was even less time or space. It was wise to do so as the 29-year-old can be devastating in possession with his ability to prise open the doughtiest of defences.
MF: Syamer Kutty Abba (Malaysia)
While long being admired for for his work-rate, there had been calls for the Penang-born midfielder to add an attacking dimension to his game and he has done just that. Over the past month he hasn’t stopped moving, usually in the direction of the opposition’s penalty area. His regular runs toward goal have been a feature of the tournament as have his numerous assists. Other players in the Malaysia team get more plaudits but all would agree that Syamer helps to make it all happen.
MF: Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam)
The Hanoi Football Club man played in midfield, but some of his best work in this tournament has come further up the field. Fans in Southeast Asia have enjoyed a month of watching an example of a fine football brain in action and his ability to create and score goals doesn’t hurt either. His passing has been excellent and the higher the standard of opposition, the better he seems to play. And all this at 21.
FW: Phan Van Duc (Vietnam)
The 22-year-old wasn’t expected to feature much when the tournament kicked off but has taken his chance to establish himself with the national team just as confidently as he has taken his chances on the pitch, with that vital goal in the Philippines a standout. He gave an experienced Azkals team a tough time and his intelligent running has been a feature of Vietnam’s campaign.
FW: Norshahrul Idlan (Malaysia)
In a tournament that has seen a number of young players come to the fore, Norshahrul “Mat Yo” Idlan has shown that experience counts. He may be the wrong side of 30 but is almost always on the right side of defenders. His goals in the tournament have been important ones. That second-leg strike against Thailand proved to be decisive and showed what he is all about. Receiving the ball with his back to goal inside the area, there was then a quick turn and a shot and that was that.
FW: Nguyen Cong Phuong (Vietnam)
He’s perhaps not reached the heights he’s shown he can in the past — even at just 23 — but has still produced plenty of moments to remember. His ability in the area is vital given Vietnam’s counter-attacking style. Scored Vietnam’s first goal of the tournament and it would not be a surprise if he scored the last.