The rescheduled 2020 AFF Championship will kick off on 5 December 2021. Ten national teams will compete for the title that was won by Vietnam in the last edition. The upcoming AFF Championship will also allow for potential players to prove themselves in the spotlight. Many players from Southeast Asia who went on to have successful careers have played in the AFF, like Safee Sali from Malaysia or Teerasil Dangda from Thailand. This year is no exception. There will be many potential players who are ready to shine and bring glory to their national teams. Who are they?
Nguyễn Tiến Linh – Vietnam
If someone asks who is the best player from Vietnam right now who can help the Golden Dragons retain their AFF Championship title, many people will answer one name, Nguyễn Quang Hải. The 24-year old playmaker from Hanoi FC is one of the biggest sensations in Southeast Asian football after he had successfully led Vietnam U-23 to the final of the 2018 U-23 Asian Cup and together with his seniors he clinched the AFF Championship title in the same year. But, there are other players that are trying to steal the spotlight from Nguyễn Quang Hải, and one of them is Nguyễn Tiến Linh.
Maybe his name is not as renowned as Nguyễn Quang Hải, but Nguyễn Tiến Linh is considered as the best forward Vietnam has right now. The forward from Becamex Binh Duong has many traits that make any forward in Southeast Asia envious. He is fast, he is smart, he can hold the ball, he can pass the ball, and the most important thing, he is sharp in front of the opposing goalkeeper. He has scored 6 goals from 11 matches in the abolished 2021 V.League 1 season, only one goal behind his compatriot in the national team, Nguyễn Van Toan, on the top scorers’ list.
However, even though he is not the best in the league, he is the best for the national team. He is Vietnam’s top scorer in the second round of the World Cup qualification with 5 goals and he has already scored 2 goals in the third round of the qualification. It will be interesting to see how many goals Nguyễn Tiến Linh score in the upcoming AFF Championship.
Safawi Rasid – Malaysia
Malaysia may not be the best or the most successful national team in Southeast Asia, but they tend to create shocks in major tournaments. That happened once in 2010 when they shocked Indonesia and won that year’s AFF Championship, and when they reached the final before being defeated by Vietnam in the AFF’s last edition in 2018. This year, their squad will be filled with many players from the class of 2018, including Safawi Rasid.
Although primarily operating as a winger, the Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) man is also dangerous in front of the opponent’s goalkeeper. He scored 3 goals from 8 matches for Malaysia in the second round of the World Cup qualification. He, along with Nguyễn Quang Hải from Vietnam, are considered the best Southeast Asian players in their generation.
Safawi will try to use the upcoming AFF Championship as the start of his redemption arc after enduring a tough 2021. With the help from JDT teammate Guilherme De Paula, they will try to give their opponent’s defenders a hard time and help Malaysia win the AFF Championship once again.
Supachok Sarachat –Thailand
Even though Thailand has been quite inconsistent in recent times, they are still a formidable opponent in the AFF Championship this year. Especially after Alexandre Pölking -Thailand’s new head coach- announced they will call 5 foreign-based players to reinforce the Changsuek‘s AFF squad, which includes arguably the best player Thailand has right now, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo’s Chanathip Songkrasin. The quintet’s arrival will make Thailand stronger and more dangerous for their opponents.
However, they are not a team that depends on only one or two players. They still have many players who are ready to steal the spotlight in the AFF Championship this year. One of them is Buriram United’s 23-year old winger, Supachok Sarachat. Maybe he is not Thailand’s best player, but he is the most versatile player they have right now, which makes him more dangerous. He can play on the right and the left flanks, and he can also fill the playmaker role well. His long shots are also a dangerous weapon that his opponents need to be aware of. Indonesia have already experienced how deadly Supachok can be when they met Thailand in the second round of the World Cup qualification.
With him and many players from abroad on the team, it’s not impossible for Thailand fans to hope that their team will win the AFF this year.
Witan Sulaeman – Indonesia
Indonesia will start the AFF with plenty of disadvantages (Related article: The pressures and disadvantages Indonesia have to fight in the AFF Championship 2020). They have already confirmed they cannot bring their best player, Egy Maulana Vikri, to the AFF due to his team, FK Senica, not allowing Egy to leave the club to represent his country. Therefore, Indonesia will try to depend on their other players who are playing abroad, such as Witan Sulaeman.
For a winger, Witan has a similar style to Egy. They like to hold the ball, try to approach the opponent’s penalty box, or do cutbacks, and they will try to shoot if they have room to do so. They also are versatile players who can play in many positions. That makes them more dangerous to their opponents. So, while Egy’s absences will hurt Indonesia, the appearance of Witan will cover the spot that Egy has left.
For Witan, this will be his first AFF Championship. But they will have a tough time, considering so many doubts about Indonesia’s performance this year. They have only won three matches, and those are only against Chinese Taipei (twice) and Myanmar. Witan will have to try to prove the doubts wrong. The question is, how far will Witan and Indonesia go this year?