Thailand takes home fifth AFF Suzuki Cup Title

The 2016 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup was the 11th edition of the premier football tournament in Southeast Asia and is accredited by FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association). Eight of the finest teams from the region participated in this year’s competition, which ran from November 19 to December 17, 2016. 

For the first time, the Philippines was named as one of the co-hosts of the group stage, alongside Myanmar. The Philippine Azkals qualifying to the semifinals in the last three editions of the competition led to the tremendous growth of the game within the country. As a result, the Philippine Football Federation secured hosting rights for the biennial tournament. The Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan and the historic Rizal Memorial Stadium served as the primary and secondary venues, respectively.

The Azkals, Thailand War Elephants, Garuda Indonesia, and Singapore Lions were drawn into Group A. Meanwhile, the Myanmar White Angels, Vietnam Golden Stars, Harimau Malaysia, and the Cambodia Kouprey Blue were set in Group B. Despite failing to advance to the semifinals, the Azkals remain the top team in the region in the FIFA’s Official Ranking.


The group of death

Defending champions Thailand inevitably clinched the top seed in Bocaue. The first game of the tournament was a match between Thailand and Indonesia, which just in time received clearance from FIFA after a year-long suspension. A 4-2 win gave the War Elephants their first of many wins. A pair of 1-0 victories over the Philippines and Singapore allowed the Thais to enter the knockout round on a high note.

Indonesia bounced back from its opening game defeat and ended its second match against the Azkals in a 2-2 draw. In order for them to qualify for the semifinals the Garudas needed a win against Singapore on the final match day. After an early goal from Khairul Amri of the Singapore Lions in the 26th minute, Indonesia had to scramble to overcome its deficit to avoid a premature elimination. Goals coming from Andik Vermansyah and Stefano Lilipaly at the latter half of the match secured a spot for Indonesia in the knockout stage. 

Despite having home field advantage, the Azkals played before a virtually empty stadium. The home team exited the tournament in the group stage with draws against Singapore and Indonesia, and a 1-0 nail-biting loss against Thailand. The year 2016 marked the worst output for the Azkals in the last four Suzuki Cup editions. Finally, the Singaporeans ended up at the bottom of the group with one draw and two losses. 


Unexpected winners

For Group B, just like Thailand, Vietnam ended the group stage with three consecutive wins against Myanmar (2-1), Malaysia (1-0), and Cambodia (2-1). As the host country for Group B, Myanmar did not fail to deliver on its home soil. The White Angels brought the country to the knockout stage for the first time since 2004, ending the group stage with a 3-1 win against Cambodia and a 1-0 victory versus Malaysia. 

2014’s first runner-up, Malaysia was unable to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 2008. After a thrilling match against Cambodia for a 3-2 win, Malaysia was not able to keep up its form as it dropped its third and final assignment against Myanmar (1-0). Meanwhile, the tournament’s lowest ranked team in Cambodia came away winless in three games.


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Semifinals: Garudas upset Golden stars, 4-3

The top two teams from the Group A and Group B, respectively, competed in a two-legged home and away semifinal round. Indonesia defied the odds as it outclassed the Golden Stars in the first leg of the semifinals with a 2-1 win at home.  An early goal by Hansamu Yama in the 7th minute for the Garudas was inevitably cancelled out by Nguyen Van Quyet. A silly tackle in the box coming from Que Ngoc Hai gave Indonesia’s captain, Boaz Solossa, a penalty kick at the 50th minute, which he slammed home to give Indonesia the win in the first leg, 2-1.

Indonesia went on and once again battled Vietnam, this time in Hanoi where the latter managed to take a come from behind victory. A penalty kick by Manahati Lestusen in extra time gave Vietnam a 4-3 win on aggregate, and a ticket to the finals.



Semifinals: War Elephants outclass White Angels

Thailand once again breezed through as it defeated Myanmar, 6-0 on aggregate. Despite having the higher percentage in ball possession throughout the whole game, the White Angels struggled to convert opportunities into goals. Nevertheless, the War Elephants did not have any difficulty in scoring as Teerasil Dangda gave the team a 2-0 advantage after the first leg.

The Thais certainly did not relax in its second meeting with Myanmar, as it fully capitalized on its home field advantage in Bangkok. The White Angels dominated the first half, but at the 33rd minute, Sarawut Masuk of Thailand slipped through and found the bottom corner of the net. Theerathon Bunmanthan, Siroch Chatthong, and Chanathip Songkrasin then each contributed additional goals as the War Elephants booked a spot in the finals against Indonesia. 


Finals: Defending champions edge underdogs, 3-2

A breathtaking finals series was then given by the Thais and Indonesians. Thailand took an early lead courtesy of a header coming from Dangda in the 33’ mark. However, Indonesia went all out in the second half. Its efforts paid off as Rizky Pora leveled the score at the 65th minute. Hansamu Yama managed to break the deadlock five minutes later to give underdogs Indonesia a 2-1 lead on aggregate coming out of the first leg, which was held in Bogor.

In the final leg of the finals, which was played in Bangkok, the Garudas seemed poised to take home its first ever Suzuki Cup Trophy behind its solid defense. After getting a well-placed pass, Chatthong allowed the War Elephants to tie the aggregate score in the first half and swung momentum in favor of Thailand. Chatthong once again sealed another goal for his team to open the second half off an assist by Chanathip. The Thais went on to clinch the title as they secured a 3-2 win on aggregate. Aside from winning their fifth title, Thailand also won the Fair Play Award, while Chanathip and Dangda were awarded the Most Valuable Player and the Top Scorer, respectively. 

In the coming years, fans will be treated to more action-packed games with the expansion of the tournament to accommodate 10 teams. Furthermore, co-hosting of all group stage games by two predetermined countries will be scrapped as all participating teams will be given the opportunity to play on home soil in front of their beloved fans.

Danielle Erika Capule

By Danielle Erika Capule

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