2012 AFF Suzuki Cup: Young Guns

ESPNSTAR.com takes a look at eight young stars who could enhance their burgeoning reputations at the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Teerathon Boonmathan, Buriram United

By Gabriel Tan

As always at every international tournament, the Suzuki Cup will witness Southeast Asia's best converge and do battle for the region's most-prized trophy.

But for every established name like Bambang Pamungkas and Datsakorn Thonglao that is likely to star at the tournament, there will also be a youngster looking to take the next step in his career by shining on ASEAN's biggest stage.

Two years ago, Safiq Rahim, Phil Younghusband and Oktovanius Maniani were just some of the players who displayed their promise with some excellent displays, and all have since gone on to establish themselves as stars of Southeast Asian football.

Here, we take a look at eight talented youngsters who appear on the verge of taking the next step in their careers courtesy of the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Theerathon Boonmathan (Thailand)

Given how Theerathon Boonmathan has played at almost every age level for Thailand since he was 12, it was always expected he would one day graduate to the senior side.

However, plenty of eyebrows were still raised when he was named in then-coach Bryan Robson's squad for the 2010 Suzuki Cup despite not having won a cap, and then when he was thrust straight into the starting XI for their opening Group A game against Laos, which ended in a 2-2 draw.

Since then, the cultured full-back has been a mainstay in the War Elephants backline and being only 22, still has plenty of room for improvement.

Theerathon is coming off the back of a fairly successful campaign with Buriram United after they won both the Thai FA Cup and League Cup, although they failed to successfully defend their Premier League title, losing out to Muangthong United.

Still, the Nonthaburi native was one of their more-consistent performers and looks set to play an important role as the Thais bid to win the Suzuki Cup for a record fourth time.

Jeffrey Christiaens (Philippines)

Philippines have enjoyed plenty of success in blooding European players with Filipino heritage in recent years, with Phil and James Younghusband being two of the best examples.

And coach Michael Weiss appears to have hit the jackpot once again with Jeffrey Christiaens, who is capable of playing both as a full-back and a winger.

The 21-year-old, who came through the youth ranks at Belgian giants Club Brugge, completed a permanent move to Global earlier this year, a move which can only bode well for his club and country given the large number of Azkals playing for the reigning United Football League champions.

Christiaens excellent work rate makes him a perfect fit to play on the wings, but it his technique and composure that have really caught the eye so far.

Nguyen Van Quyet (Vietnam)

Over the past two years, Hanoi T&T have established themselves as a giant in the Vietnam League after back-to-back runners-up finishes in the Super League.

One of the main reasons why they have been such a formidable side has been the emergence of Nguyen Van Quyet, who seamlessly filled the void left by the legendary Le Cong Vinh in 2012 to finish the top local goalscorer in the league after bagging 12 goals.

Having already replaced Vinh as T&T's talisman, the 21-year-old has been tipped by many to be his long-term successor for Vietnam.

And just like how his predecessor's inspirational displays led the Golden Star to their first Suzuki Cup title back in 2008, it wouldn't be surprising if it was Quyet who fires them to glory this around.

Kyi Lin (Myanmar)

Determined, stocky and standing at just 1.67m, it's easy to brush Kyi Lin off as another run-of-the-mill Southeast Asian midfielder - hardworking but technically lacking.

But anyone who has seen his performances for Yangon United in the past two years will be aware that in the 20-year-old, both his club and Myanmar have an outstanding prospect who is equally adept at creating openings as he is breaking them down.

Yangon's successive triumphs in the Myanmar National League in the last two have also handed Kyi Lin plenty of international experience at club level in the AFC Cup, meaning that even although he is only just out of his teens, he is more than capable of rising to the occasion of playing at the Suzuki Cup.

Andik Vermansyah (Indonesia)

It's never easy living up to the expectations of a country boasting a population of over 237million inhabitants, especially when you have been compared to a certain Argentinean wizard who currently plies his trade with one of the world's biggest clubs.

Fortunately for Andik Vermansyah, being called "the Indonesian Lionel Messi" isn't that much of an exaggeration given he does resemble the Barcelona star when in full flight.

The Persebaya winger's low centre of gravity makes him extremely tough to tackle and he certainly possesses the creativity to unlock opposition defences in and around the area.

Andik has already had a trial at Major League Soccer side DC United and the Suzuki Cup could be another stage for him to display his wares to overseas suitors.

Wan Zack Haikal (Malaysia)

Malaysia coach K. Rajagobal already has a wealth of talent at his disposal in the wide midfield positions, with S. Kunanlan, Baddrol Bakhtiar and Ahmad Fakri all capable of doing a role.

It therefore remains to be seen if Harimau Muda's Wan Zack Haikal will get a chance to prove his worth at the Suzuki Cup, although if he is selected, opposition defences will do well to keep an eye out for him.

In the true vein of a traditional winger, Wan Zack loves hugging the touchline before running at his opponent, and with his sheer pace and skill, has all the weapons necessary to singlehandedly tear apart a defence.

Having taken Singapore by storm this year by winning the Young Player of the Season award in the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League, the 21-year-old is primed for a big performance in Malaysia if he's given the chance.

Ketsada Souksavanh (Laos)

Given Laos' stature in the region, not many of their players have managed to find their way to overseas league in the past.

However, things have certainly changed in recent times with a number of lower-division Thai clubs putting their faith in Laotian players, and Nong Khai currently have three on their books.

One of them is defender Ketsada Souksavanh, who only turns 20 two days before Laos' opening Suzuki Cup Group B match against Indonesia, but has already won 25 caps and was part of their squad in the 2010 edition.

Given Thim Xad head into the tournament as the lowest-ranked side based on the FIFA world rankings, they are likely to be under siege against Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Thus, Ketsada is likely to be under the spotlight but there is no better way for a young star to improve than to earn his spurs against some of the region's best attackers.

Safuwan Baharudin (Singapore)

Singapore have had no problem producing quality centre-backs over the past decade or so, with the likes of Lim Tong Hai, Aide Iskandar, S. Subramani and Baihakki Khaizan all establishing themselves as stars of the region.

Therefore, it was not much of a surprise when Lions coach Radojko Avramovic named a tall, skinny defender with only three caps to his name in his Suzuki Cup squad in 2010.

Fast forward two years and Safuwan Baharudin is now regarded as one of the region's most promising defenders, blessed with an excellent reading of the game and superior aerial ability.

2012 has not been kind to the 21-year-old as injuries have curtailed what promised to be an excellent debut season with Malaysia Super League outfit LIONSXII, but he is now back to full fitness and is raring to deliver for Singapore.

While his relative youth means he's prone to the odd error, in him and Baihakki, Singapore will have arguably one of the best central defence pairings at the tournament.

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