This year’s AFF Suzuki Cup certainly hasn’t failed to deliver, so we take a look at seven of the most thrilling and memorable moments from the competition.
1 – Chan Vathanaka profits from Malaysia’s mistake
Here’s a lesson to all footballers, from youngsters on the school field to the top professionals: always play to the whistle.
After a Malaysian backpass rebounded to Cambodia’s Chan Vathanaka behind the line of defence during the two teams’ Group B opener, the Malaysian defenders stopped chasing the star striker when the assistant referee raised his flag.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, referee Yaqoob Abdul Baqi did not blow his whistle, allowing Vathanaka to continue his run and outfox the keeper to score the opening goal of the match.
Replays showed the ref was correct to allow play to continue, and while the Malaysians felt very hard done by, they had learned an all too valuable lesson. And luckily for them, they also managed to recovered to register a 3-2 win – the first time in eight years that Malaysia had won their opening group match.
2 – Hafiz Sujad’s red card sets the tone for Singapore
This year’s AFF Suzuki Cup was not a successful one for four-time champions Singapore, and perhaps the writing was on the wall as early as the first half of their first group match.
Up against the Philippines in their Group B opener, disaster struck for the Lions in the 35th minute when Hafiz Sujad raised his leg way too high as he was challenging for an airborne ball with Philip Younghusband.
Instead of making contact with the ball, Sujad struck Younghusband in the chest, and the referee wasted little time in doling out a red card.
In truth, Singapore never really recovered from that blow. While they held on for a goalless draw thanks to a defensive approach, they really needed more from the match considering the toughness of their group. Defeats to Thailand and Indonesia followed, knocking them out of the competition.
3 – Khairul Amri’s scissors kick
While there was precious little for Singapore to shout about in this year’s competition, they did enjoy one moment of absolute magic, courtesy of Khairul Amri in their final group game against Indonesia.
Before Stefano Lilypaly’s late goal knocked the Lions out of the competition, Amri gave them hope courtesy of an acrobatic scissor kick goal early in the first half.
A Singapore corner kick was headed on to Amri who pounced on it at the far post, producing an acrobatic overhead kick to volley into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Sadly, it did not prove enough for his side, but Amri’s exceptional goal will not soon be forgotten.
4 – Andik Vermansah’s pivotal goal for Indonesia
We’re not done with the match between Singapore and Indonesia yet.
The Indonesians, along with Myanmar, have definitely been the surprise package of this year’s competition, making it all the way to the final, and their performance in their final group game against Singapore was arguably their defining moment.
Trailing on the scoresheet after Khairul Amri’s incredible overhead opener, few could have predicted just how well they’d respond in the second half, and the fightback was thrown into high gear by Andik Vermansah’s impressive equaliser.
Indonesia continued probing for way back into the match after the break, and in the 62nd minute they were rewarded for their industry. A cross came in from the left, provided by Rizky Ripora, and Vermansyah showed terrific technique to volley the ball home with audacity.
That set the stage for Stefano Lilypaly’s last-gasp winner, and the Indonesians soon found themselves bound for the semi-finals – and the final – as their impressive run rolled on.
5 – Vu Van Thanh almost sparks incredible comeback
Vietnam could not have looked more down and out in the second leg of their semi-final against Indonesia, trailing 1-0 in the match and 3-1 on aggregate with 10 minutes to play, and having just had a man sent off.
Somehow, however, Vu Van Thanh conjured up an equaliser, latching onto Pham Thanh Luong’s clever cut back from a free-kick and sweeping home from the right hand side to give his side the smallest sliver of hope.
Incredibly, it would prove to be the impetus for a superb rear-guard effort as Vu Minh Tuan scored in injury time to prolong the contest against all odds.
Vietnam ultimately went down in extra time, but their superb fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude saw them exit the competition with their heads held high.
6 – Manahati Lestusen’s match-winning penalty
Twenty-two-year-old defensive midfielder Manahati Lestusen proved an unlikely hero for Indonesia in the second leg of their semi-final against Vietnam.
All the momentum was with their opponents as goals from Vu Van Thanh and Vu Minh Tuan in the closing stages of the match saw Vietnam prolong the match seemingly from nowhere, but Que Ngoc Hai gave away a penalty early in extra time after hacking down Ferdinand Sinaga to give Indonesia newfound hope.
Up stepped Lestusen amid heaps of pressure to bury the ball in the back of the net and send Indonesia into the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup final.
7 – Thailand show their class against Myanmar
After a big 4-2 win against Indonesia in their opening group match, Thailand were more circumspect in their 1-0 wins over Singapore and the Philippines.
The results would have given some hope to underdogs Myanmar of forcing a huge upset result in the two-legged semi-final against the mighty War Elephants.
But it seems as if Kiatisuk Senamuang’s were only biding their time, waiting for the business end of the tournament to show what they were really capable of.
What followed against Myanmar was a thorough dismantling of their talented opponents, a 6-0 aggregate win – 2-0 in the first leg and 4-0 in the second – that showed exactly what the Thai side were capable of.
The six goals – two from Teerasil Dangda in the first leg and one apiece for Sarawut Masuk, Theerathon Bunmathan, Siroch Chatthong and Chanathip Songkrasin in the second – could not have sent a more emphatic statement to their opponents in the final.