FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks the five best performers from the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 semi-finals.
The semi-finals of AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 got underway over the weekend and there is still plenty to play for with 90 minutes still to go.
In the first semi at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Saturday, Malaysia surprisingly completely dominated proceedings against defending champions Thailand but their wasteful finishing meant that they had to settle for a 0-0 draw.
Sunday’s game at the Panaad Stadium then saw Vietnam claim a 2-1 win over Philippines, although the one-goal deficit is by no means an impossible hurdle to overcome.
Here, FOX Sports Asia picks “The Top 5” from the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semis.
1) Syamer Kutty Abba (Malaysia)
It is not often any Southeast Asian side gets to say they dominated Thailand, but that is exactly what Malaysia did at Bukit Jalil.
Much of that has to do with winning the midfield battle and, for that, Harimau Malaya have Syamer Kutty Abba and Akram Mahinan to thank for.
Plenty of space for Malaysia to Attack down Thailand’s right. Mika getting drawn in alongside his centre backs and the back 4 is very narrow. Safawi, Syazwan and at times Syamer can find lots of space on that left flank but need quality on the final ball. #MASvTHA #AFFSuzukiCup18
— Rhysh Roshan Rai (@RhyshRai) December 1, 2018
While Akram was his usual self shielding the back four and recycling possession, Syamer really took it upon himself to be a driving force from the middle of the park.
Not only did he initiate countless Malaysia attacks, he then followed up by charging into the box and found himself in a number of good positions, even if the return delivery did not always reach him.
2) Mika Chunuonsee (Thailand)
The half-Welsh Mika Chunuonsee had to bide his time at the tournament, having initially played second fiddle to Philip Roller in Thailand’s opening three matches.
But, after being given the nod in their final Group B game against Singapore, the 29-year-old took his chance with both hands and deservingly kept his place on Saturday.
Mika would probably have not expected the amount of defending he ended up having to do but, once it became clear that Malaysia had the ascendancy, he formed part of a resilient Thailand defence that really stuck to their task.
A lack of defensive support from Nurul Sriyankem meant he had to work overtime in the opening hour, and his steady display was highlighted with a goal-saving header that prevented Norshahrul Idlan Talaha from glancing a cross home from six yards out.
3) Phil Younghusband (Philippines)
Given how he has spent the last decade as the darling of Philippine football and is his country’s most decorated player, it seems a bit strange to call Phil Younghusband an “unsung hero”.
However, given the limelight he gets from all the goals he has scored – 52 in 104 caps to be exact – the hard work he puts in sometimes gets overlooked.
Never afraid to sacrifice himself for the team, Younghusband did an admirable job as the lone striker against Vietnam, chasing down the three opposition centre-backs tirelessly throughout the 90 minutes.
— AFF Suzuki Cup (@affsuzukicup) December 2, 2018
And, when he did get a chance to cause damage offensively, the Azkals captain did not disappoint as he charged down the left before floating an inch-perfect cross for Patrick Reichelt to volley home.
4) Phan Van Duc (Vietnam)
With a plethora of outstanding talent in their ranks, it appears as though Vietnam’s young stars actually follow a roster that states whose time it is to shine each game.
Following some standout displays by Nguyen Cong Phuong, Nguyen Quang Hai and Nguyen Tien Linh, it was Phan Van Duc’s turn on Sunday.
It says something to be picked ahead of captain Nguyen Van Quyet and Cong Phuong in one of the three attacking berths, but the Song Lam Nghe An man had no problems in repaying the faith shown in him by coach Park Hang-seo.
— AFF Suzuki Cup (@affsuzukicup) December 2, 2018
His enterprise down the wing gave Philippines’ makeshift right-back Adam Tull all sorts of problems, and he also showed intelligence beyond his years with a perfectly-timed run in between two defenders to race through and score what proved to be the winner.
5) Tan Cheng Hoe (Malaysia)
Having arguably already surpassing expectations by leading Malaysia to the semi-finals, Tan Cheng Hoe went one better at the weekend with a game plan that saw his charges completely dominated the mighty Thais.
Amidst all the fancy tactics of the modern age, Tan has not been afraid to field what is effectively an old-school 4-4-2 and Harimau Malaya’s wing-play has been a highlight of their success.
“Tough game in Bangkok” says Malaysia boss Tan Cheng Hoe.
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) December 1, 2018
After a slow start by Mohamadou Sumareh, Tan also appears to be now getting the best out of his Gambian-born winger, while veterans Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Zaquan Adha and Aidil Zafuan are enjoying a new lease of life in the national team.
Should the former Kedah coach go on to mastermind a result at the Rajamangala Stadium on Wednesday, it would be quite the achievement.