Quite often, it is the midfielders and the strikers who steal all the limelight in football. However, if this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup has taught us anything, it is to never underestimate those who guard the goal. And so, we take a look at the five best defenders from the group stages.
Pansa Hemviboon (Thailand)
Part of a highly impressive Thailand side during the group stages, Pansa started all of their matches bar one — the 7-0 thrashing of Timor-Leste. The other three matches he played in their entirety and even managed to score two crucial goals; a bonus for any defender.
In defence, Pansa was rock solid. He might not have won any tackles during those three games but he did have 17 clearances and 10 interceptions to his name. Furthermore, he also made three blocks and kept most of his opposite numbers in check.
Lastly, Pansa did reflect positive numbers in terms of passing as well, as he completed 91 passes with 88.3 per cent accuracy. A solid all-around performance from the centre-back.
Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri (Thailand)
Joining Pansa as the second Thai player on the list is left-back Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri. While his compatriot was proving to be as solid as ever in the centre of the defence, Korrakot was running up and down the wings.
The left-back was compact in defence and made six successful tackles with 85.7 per cent accuracy. Korrakot also made six clearances, two blocks, and two interceptions while helping his side keep two clean sheets in the AFF Suzuki Cup so far.
However, his contributions weren’t only limited to defence. The left-back was a constant attacking threat down the left channel and even managed to grab a goal for himself direct from a corner kick.
In terms of distribution, the Buriram United man completed 117 passes with a 74.5 per cent accuracy and also delivered three successful crosses.
Safuwan Baharudin (Singapore)
The next defender on our list achieved a feat which few in the world can boast about. Starting at his preferred centre-back position against Timor-Leste, Safuwan went on to score three goals, thereby completing a remarkable hat-trick!
However, his true contributions came while he was back on defence.
The 27-year-old started and finished all four of Singapore’s games. During this time he made five tackles, all of which were successful. Furthermore, Safuwan made 19 clearances, nine interceptions, and a block during the same period.
His passing wasn’t too bad either, with the central defender completing 123 passes with 75.9 per cent accuracy.
Tran Dinh Trong (Vietnam)
Whilst three of our previous entries can be classified under goal-scoring defenders, here comes one who had only one motive throughout the group stage. And Tran Dinh Trong achieved it in some style as he and his teammates made it through to the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 semifinals without conceding a single goal.
Only 21 years of age, the centre-back showed immense maturity, as he was played in the centre of a back three for all four games.
During these four games, Tran Dinh Trong made five successful tackles with a success rate of 83.3 per cent. Furthermore, he made 15 clearances, two blocks, and three interceptions, as Vietnam cruised through the first four matches without breaking a sweat.
The youngster was effective in his passing as well, as Vietnam tried to play out from the back. He made 133 successful passes with 84.7 per cent accuracy and even made two key plays.
Syahmi Safari (Malaysia)
The final spot in our top five ranking goes to Malaysia’s Syahmi Safari. The marauding right-back was one of the most lethal fullbacks in attack. He was also highly effective in defence.
Whilst Syahmi made three successful tackles, five clearances, one block, and eight interceptions, it is his attacking contributions which truly caught the eye.
The Malaysian right-back would constantly find himself in the opposition half in order to deliver a cross or a key pass. He did indeed deliver four successful crosses and six key passes in four games.
Furthermore, Syahmi was extremely impressive in his distribution, with 173 of his passes finding a teammate. He even had two successful dribbles and provided an assist to complete an impressive AFF Suzuki Cup group stage.