The beckoning of history in south-east Asian football

If ever there was a good time of being crowned Asean champions for the first time, this year will be it. 2010 will be history in the making anyhow as two powerhouses who have yet to taste regional glory lock horns in the final of the ASEAN Football Championships.

Malaysia and Indonesia will do battle over two legs, on the 26th and 29th December 2010, and are no strangers to this stage, having been beaten finalists once and thrice respectively. Both teams, whose games are usually treated like derbies owing to them being geographical neighbours, will be looking to set a few records straight through the course of the two legs.

Into its ninth edition now, the championships, better known as the AFF Suzuki Cup due to a sponsorship tie-up with the Japanese automobile company, havee been a constant highlight for the South-east Asian footballing community. With teams in the region not able to usurp powerhouses in the World Cup qualifiers like Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan and more recently, Australia, this tournament gives South-east Asian teams the best chance of picking up a silverware while at the same time offer them bragging rights over others. This year’s tournament has seen the likes of 3-time champions Thailand, managed by former England captain Bryan Robson, and Singapore thumped out at the first hurdle while also seeing The Phillipines rise above all expectations to qualify for the semi-finals.

In a strategic restructuring of the national team back in 2009, the Malaysians now deploys the national under-23 squad for international senior tournaments under the leadership of coach K Rajagopal who himself was coach of the under-23s before being promoted. The young Tigers were expected to shine in this tournament as well on the back of successful Asian Games and South-East Asian Games tournaments – where they recorded their best-ever finish since 1978 by qualifying for the 2nd round and won respectively. However, the Indonesians didn’t read that portion of the script as they proceeded to rip the Malaysians to shreds 5-1 in the opening game of their group. Written off at that point of time, the Malaysians recovered well to qualify for the final – holding 3-time champions Thailand to a goal-less draw before thumping Laos 5-1 to seal their entry into the semi-finals. There, they edged out reigning champions Vietnam 2-0 over the course of two legs by winning their home encounter in the first while successfully keeping out a Vietnamese siege in the away leg.

Gunning for blood now and no better a hunter around than a wounded Tiger, the Malaysians will be looking to dish out to the Indonesians a taste of their own medicine and win their first-ever AFF Cup. Taking the ‘offence is the best form of defense’ approach, Malaysian fans will be hoping that Norshahrul Idlan can repeat his heroics against the Indonesians as like their earlier encounter while also keeping their fingers crossed that his strike partner Muhammad Safee can contribute to a few goals as well and that .

Meanwhile, the Indonesians have an agenda of their own to address on Boxing Day. Having qualified for the final three times prior to their exploits in 2010, the Red and Whites are the most frequent runner-ups in the history of the competition and are desperate for a happier ending this time around. However, they have been known to have a knack of self-imploding on the field. Football fans in the region will remember the 1998 edition of this tournament prominently when the Indonesians threw the final group game against Thailand to avoid being group winners and face Vietnam in the semi-finals. They succeeded and met the winners of the other group, Singapore, expecting to be in the final but they lost and Singapore went on to be crowned champions that year. The defender who scored an purported own goal in that game, Mursyid Effendi, was banned from football for life while both teams mirred in the controversy got heavily fined for violating the spirit of the game.

Looking like a totally different proposition to former incarantions, the Indonesian team of 2010 are now led by former Vietnam coach Alfred Riedl, who demands discipline and mental toughness on the pitch. Touted by many pundits to take home the crown this year, the Red and Whites will be buoyed by their own performances so far in the tournament – steam-rolling over the Malaysians and the Thais (2-1) in the group stages before sending The Phillipines, surprise package of the tournament, packing for home in a fiercely contested semi-final clash that ended 2-0 on aggregate. Boasting the tournament’s top-scorer in striker Cristian Gonzáles, a naturalized Indonesian who played with former FC Internationzale striker Alvaro Recoba in the Uruguayan under-20s, and former FC Utrecht playmaker Irfan Bachdim, the Indonesians will be confident of making it two victories out of two when they meet the Malaysians.

The first leg sees the Malaysians play at home before the Indonesians play host in the second. If the Malaysians were to win it, they’d have to adopt the same strategy used in the semi-finals by going for the win at home before hoping for another show of rearguard solidity since away goals are counted in this tournament. The Indonesians, meanwhile, have an advantage by being at home in the second leg. The Gelora Bung Karno stadium has always been filled to the brim whenever the national team plays there and has been likened to the Ali Sami Yen stadium in Turkey for its intimidating atmosphere – where fans bring flares and drum up enough noise to reverberate around the stadium and cause the stands to tremble. With their record against Malaysia victory, they could work to get a goal in the first leg before relying on their crowd and attacking prowess to steal a victory in the second.

Whatever the predictions or punditry, this promises to be a great game of football, considering history being made no matter the result.

The Author

Terence Ong

24-year old aspiring sports journalist who counts Newcastle United as his one true love in football. Also watches a bit of South-east Asian football with a vested interest considering he hails from Singapore. Willing to write about the English Premier League as well as introduce the blooming footballing region that is Asia with maybe a more detailed focus on South-East Asia. Also loves hanging out with friends, listening to music (Pop, Rock - irony duly noted), and playing some football himself.

2 thoughts on “The beckoning of history in south-east Asian football

  1. fine piece Terrence, I remember being in Ho Chi Minh City during the closing stages of the 2003 ASEAN games. The atmosphere before, during and especially after Vietnam’s semi-final win was like nothing I’d ever seen before. They ended up losing the final to thailand but it’s a spectacle I’ll never forget.

    Great to see even more regions being covered on here, and great to see someone breaking through in SEA..

    Look forward to a post final review!

    1. Thanks for the compliments Joseph!

      It’s always great to get a nice message of support for the article especially if it’s the first one I’m churning out.

      It’s great to hear you were in HCM when the Vietnamese did so well in that edition. South East Asian teams are generally very passionate about their national teams and you can tell by the atmosphere outside the stadiums itself on matchdays and post-match to find out how much they love their football there.

      It’s great getting Asian football here to BackPage. It’s an untapped market media-wise and I hope I can give it as good a shot as others

      The 2-legged final just ended awhile ago in Asian time-zones so will be putting up a post-final review soon.

      Stay tuned for it!

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