Ashes of Defeat Snatched from Jaws of Extra Time

Thailand snatched the ashes of defeat from the jaws of extra time last night when Vietnam claimed the AFF Suzuki Cup with the last kick (a header, in fact) of the match. Thailand had been leading for most of the game after an early Teerasil header made it 2-2 on aggregate and, for the majority of the game, Thailand looked the superior side without ever really looking like going on to get the second and probably decisive goal. However, as the final seconds ebbed away, Vietnam were awarded a fairly soft free-kick a few yards from the Thai penalty area and the ball was swung in to the box, when slack marking allowed Le Cong Vinh headed the ball on and into the net in a fashion that would have made Kevin Doyle proud (praise can come no higher, of course).

The goalscorer, who had already been booked (we had a few incidents of typical SE Asian football with wild challenges, physical confrontation and random refereeing decisions) immediately took off his shirt and began cavorting with the crowd and teammates and anyone else nearby – in Britain, that would have been two more yellow cards and even Graham Poll would have had to send him off. However, the ref blew for full-time without restarting the game, which presumably prevented him from having to act.

Some of the more entertaining sights included armed Vietnamese police tangling with people trying to get on to the pitch to congratulate the scorer (did they include squad players?) and several rows of VIP seated officials, who had looked glum throughout the game and presumably were CP members, suddenly all looking happy and shaking hands with seniors in deferential manner. The crowd, inevitably, went absolutely crazy. I can imagine how our Vietnamese students would have responded.

AFF Suzuki Cup Draw Made (Forget Nasssty Politicssses)

The draw has been made for the AFF Suzuki Cup to be held later this year – and Thailand and Singapore, the two leading teams, are to be kept apart for the group stages. The tournament brings together the leading Southeast Asian nations, such as they are, for games to be held in both Thailand and Indonesia during December of this year. Given how far away regional teams are from qualifying for the World Cup or even the later stages of the all-Asia national and club tournaments, the Suzuki Cup (previously the Tiger Cup) is about as big as it is going to get for the foreseeable for local footballers.

A preliminary group tournament will be held in Cambodia to winnow out two teams from the five weakest: Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Brunei and Timor Leste. Those two teams will then qualify in one of the two main groups: the first brings together Singapore, Indonesia, Burma and the runner-up from the qualifying round and the second group has Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the winner of the qualifying round. Given the current state of political play, I imagine organizers will be pleased if games between Thailand and Cambodia and between Indonesia and Timor Leste can be avoided, as there are likely to be high feelings involved. Various other combinations of teams offer possible outbreaks of long-standing tensions (Singapore and Malaysia, for example) but these are not currently at a high level.

Favourites for the tournament will be holders Singapore and of course Thailand, which has historically been a strong nation at this level. Recently, both Burma and Vietnam have emerged as strong threats and Vietnam in particular seems likely to remain strong owing to its organized national league (albeit that it appears to be riddled with corruption) and the money available to tempt good players to play there. The success of the Burmese team is more likely to have been good team spirit in a squad of players facing all kinds of difficulties in their daily and professional lives. Malaysia and Indonesia should both be able to put out competent teams but seem to have stagnated recently. No one else has got any chance, frankly.