Thailand’s place at the pinnacle of modern Southeast Asian football cannot be denied. Since the birth of the AFF Suzuki Cup in 1996, Thailand have won five of the total past eleven editions, making them the winningest nation in the region. In those glorious runs, one player became a legend: Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang.
The striker who hailed from the province of Udon Thani has been instrumental on all three glorious AFF tourneys (1996, 2000, 2002), scoring in crucial parts of the War Elephants’ respective championship runs.
Hero of the first ever AFF Suzuki Cup final.
The inaugural AFF Championship in 1996 has been won by Thailand, etching the War Elephants’ names in history as the first ever champions of Southeast Asia.
In that one-off final against Malaysia in neutral Singapore National Stadium, Senamuang immortalised himself by scoring the lone goal of the match in the ninth minute that proved to be the winner.
His goal celebration was equally memorable when he flipped and somersaulted to the air to further emphasise the significance of such a goal.
It was a groundbreaking, milestone achievement that cannot be taken away from him.
That glorious run proved to be only the beginning as Zico Senamuang (his nickname deservedly given to him by his peers because of his admiration for Brazilian legend Zico and his undeniable talent as a footballer) was able to help his squad to two more AFF titles in 2000 and 2002.
A decorated player and an ambassador for Southeast Asian football
Outside the AFF Suzuki Cup, Zico is a four-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist (1993, 1995, 1997, 1999) further stamping Thailand’s mastery of football in the region.
Zico also helped Thailand finish in fourth place in the 1998 Asian Games football tournament. Such campaign made him unavailable for that year’s AFF Championship.
With a weakened War Elephants squad, Thailand can only muster to finish at fourth place, after falling against Vietnam in the semifinals and dropping their consolation third-place playoff against Indonesia.
But that forgettable campaign proved to be just a blip for Thailand as two years later, Zico was back with a vengeance helping his national squad regain their lofty position in the Southeast Asian footballing sphere towards the aforementioned back-to-back Suzuki Cup triumphs.
A champion head coach, another ‘first’
After his Zico’s playing days, he became a manager and a head coach, eventually becoming the mentor of the War Elephants in 2014.
His appointment proved to usher a triumphant spell in the Southeast Asian front, winning the AFF Suzuki Cup twice in 2014 and 2016.
When he won the Suzuki Cup trophy in 2014 another immortal title has been bestowed upon him: The first former player to win the AFF Suzuki Cup as head coach.
Before his stint as the gaffer of the senior side he was also able to lead Thailand’s U-23 squad to winning the 2013 Southeast Asian Games gold medal.
Zico is a trailblazer. His accomplishments in Southeast Asian Football could be compared to legends of the game such as Franz Beckenbauer for the German national team and Pep Guardiola for FC Barcelona.
His achievements serve as inspiration to players and coaches alike. But out of the plethora of honours he was able to achieve two things will never be broken nor surpassed – him being the first scorer of title winning goal of the first ever AFF Championship final and the first person to win the AFF Suzuki Cup as a player and head coach .
Kiatisuk ‘Zico’ Senamuang: An undeniable legend of the AFF Suzuki Cup