AFF Suzuki Cup 2018: Best XI of the semi-finals

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan embarks on the tricky task of picking 11 players and a coach for his Team of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 semi-finals.

So, it is Malaysia and Vietnam that will face off in the battle to be crowned champions of AFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

In quite dramatic fashion on Wednesday, Malaysia were the first to advance to the decider on away goals after a 2-2 draw with Thailand, who could easily have emerged victorious but for a 96th-minute penalty miss by Adisak Kraisorn.

Thursday’s other semi-final saw Vietnam claim a 2-1 triumph over Philippines to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

There was no shortage of heroes and villains over the course of the 180 minutes in both matches, but just who made it into FOX Sports Asia’s “Team of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 semi-finals”?

GK: Dang Van Lam (Vietnam)

Van Lam makes a save in the first leg against Philippines.

Dang Van Lam has been the personification of consistency since the start of AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, and would probably be a shoo-in for the Best XI of the entire tournament too.

Standing almost 1.9-metres tall, Van Lam’s authority when coming out to claim high balls is a breath of fresh air for a region that usually has more-diminutive goalkeepers, while he is also no slouch when it comes to handling and reflexes.

RB: Syahmi Safari (Malaysia)

One of the revelations of the tournament, the future looks exceedingly bright for Malaysia right-back Syahmi Safari.

The 20-year-old will miss the first leg of the final after being sent off in the dying moments of Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Thailand but played a key role in both legs, including scoring an absolute stunner for his maiden international goal.

CB: Pansa Hemviboon (Thailand)

Although the Thais were ultimately unable to claim a 6th title, there were several players who emerged with their reputations enhanced and Pansa Hemviboon was one of them.

The Buriram United man formed a formidable partnership with captain Chalermpong Kerdkaew but was also unstoppable from set-pieces and netted three goals in six matches.

CB: Shahrul Saad (Malaysia)

Shahrul keeps a close eye on Adisak Kraisorn.

Much has been spoken about how Malaysia’s older brigade have led the way and Aidil Zafuan has been key at the back, but equally impressive has been Shahrul Saad.

Strong in the challenge but also excellent at reading the play, the 25-year-old looks to have successfully converted from the talented prospect he was at Harimau Muda to a genuine A-grade player for the senior national team.

LB: Martin Steuble (Philippines)

Steuble ever ready to start a counterattack.

The determination and desire that are trademarks on this Philippines team was best illustrated by Martin Steuble, who was more than happy to fill in wherever he was needed – in this tournament, at both left-back and right-back.

Steuble may not have the pace of a typical full-back but is rarely beaten in a one-on-one duel, and also pushed forward to good effect.

DM: Pham Duc Huy (Vietnam)

Duc Huy pushing forward to good effect.

Despite having not started the tournament as part of Vietnam’s starting XI, Pham Duc Huy was given his chance in the final group game and has not lost his place since.

In a side brimming with attacking quality, Duc Huy provides the much-needed defensive stability in midfield and it is now hard to see coach Park Hang-seo dropping him for the final.

CM: Thitipan Puangchan (Thailand)

Arguably Thailand’s best player over the two legs of the semi-finals, Thitipan Puangchan will be now hoping he has done enough to earn his right to play at AFC Asian Cup 2019, as well as a potential move abroad.

The 25-year-old really excelled in his box-to-box midfielder role, and offered the War Elephants plenty both going forward and when they were not in possession.

CM: Syamer Kutty Abba (Malaysia)

Syamer perfectly happy doing the dirty work for Malaysia.

Another youngster that looks set to be a big part of Malaysia’s future, Syamer Kutty Abba should continue to be an important player in the final alongside Akram Mahinan in the engine room.

Although he is more known for his tough-tackling ways, Syamer has used this tournament to show that he can also contribute in the attacking third and has impressed with his distribution and follow-up runs into the penalty box.

RF: Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam)

Although Vietnam coach Park seems to like the idea of Nguyen Quang Hai in central midfield, he still does his best work as an attacker and has rediscovered his best form since being reinstated in the front three.

With the ball at his feet, Quang Hai is capable of carving apart opposition defences at will but also gets into excellent scoring positions of his own, and is currently Vietnam’s joint-top scorer with three goals.

LF: Phan Van Duc (Vietnam)

It takes something to keep your captain out of the team but Phan Van Duc’s form has meant that Nguyen Van Quyet is presently biding his time on the bench.

Van Duc has caught the eye with his pace and skill on the ball, and his partnership down the left with Doan Van Hau has been one of the highlights of Vietnam’s campaign.

CF: Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (Malaysia)

Norshahrul Idlan Talaha gained the accolade of having scored at four different Suzuki Cups when he netted in Malaysia’s opening game against Cambodia, and he has only gone on from strength to strength since.

While players often evolve as they get on in their years, the 32-year-old remains the same creative forward he was in his prime and continues to show a killer instinct in front of goal.

Coach: Tan Cheng Hoe (Malaysia)

Tan has deservingly been receiving plenty of plaudits.

Vietnam’s Park also deserves credit for having led Vietnam to the final but, considering what the expectations surrounding Malaysia before the start of the campaign, it is near impossible to overlook Tan Cheng Hoe’s achievements.

Apart from being able to get the best out of his players, Tan also appears to have given them a sense of belief that they can match it with Southeast Asia’s best and they will go into the final against Vietnam showing no fear.

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