The biggest football tournament in South East Asia kicks off today. From the land of dragon people in Vietnam to the archipelago of Indonesia, eight nations in the region are preparing their best squad to compete for this biennial title. Teams like Vietnam and Thailand are taking a big risk with the inclusion of many young players, while former champions Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are still relying on some seasoned players with the little mix of youngsters. As we prepare for the opener, here is my list of players to watch:
Many people (including myself) predict Adisak to take the spotlight in this year’s tournament At the age of 22, he has already showed the world what he is capable of as a forward. He scored five goals in the recent Asian Games and brought Thailand to the semi final, equaling their best results in the competition achieved in 1990 and 1998. He also tasted the competitive spirit of the AFC Champions League with Buriram United. His most notable performance was against Shandong Luneng, when he scored an equaliser in stoppage time. With plenty of experience in top flight and promising skills, Adisak is expected to be a big star for the War Elephants.
- Evan Dimas Darmono (Indonesia)
After his success with Indonesia U-19 in the 2013 AFF U-19 Youth Championship and 2014 Asian Cup U-19 qualifier, Evan is becoming a big hit in Indonesia. His attributes as a midfielder are somewhat different from the typical Indonesian midfielder, specifically his good vision and good positioning which are rare in the current Indonesia squad. His stellar performance as a playmaker drew Alfred Riedl’s attention and earned an invite to the senior side. Alfred won’t be disappointed with his decision; Evan proved his potential by scoring in the preparation match against Timor Leste few days ago. The 19-year-old is determined to prove himself on the big stage.
The Malaysia national team currently lacks a prolific striker; stars like Safee Sali or Norshahrul are no longer as capable as they used to be. Safee has only netted three goals for his club in all competitions this season, with just two for Norshahrul. As a result, Amri is the best choice for Dollah Solleh’s side in the attacking position. At the age of 33, Amri was still good enough to score seven goals for Johor Darul Takzim, bringing them the league title. Those accomplishments are enough to prove that Amri is the right man for Malaysia right now. With his vast experience and scoring ability, he could help Malaysia escape the group of death.
- Shahril Ishak (Singapore)
Shahril is a fixture of the AFF Suzuki Cup; this tournament will be his sixth as a participant. In the 2012 edition, Shahril led Singapore to a dramatic title and was also the tournament’s MVP. Despite his age, Shahril’s performances for the national team and his club Johor Darul Takzim II (JDT II) are still very consistent and he has no trouble finding the net. His knowledge and experience in this tournament will be invaluable to Singapore as they look to survive a hellish group with Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar.