Singapore, Thailand vie for record fourth title

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SINGAPORE—Singapore and Thailand will vie for the honor of becoming Southeast Asia’s first four-time champions when the AFF Suzuki Cup final gets under way on Wednesday.

Both teams have won the title three times, during a period in which they shared it for the first six editions, and they are reunited in the two-legged final after both failed to reach the semis at the last tournament in 2010.

But two years after those disappointing campaigns, normal service has been resumed as they topped their respective groups before battling through tricky semi-finals to reach the final once again.

The Thais have done it in impressive fashion, winning all of their group games against Azkals of the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam before disposing of defending champions Malaysia 3-1 on aggregate in the last four.

The “War Elephants” have not won the regional title in a decade but Winfried Schaefer’s vibrant side will be favorites after netting 12 times in five games with striker Teerasil Dangda bagging a tournament-leading five goals.

And in Datsakorn Thonglao, they have a talented and combative midfielder who is determined to lift the title after finishing with runners-up medals in 2007 and 2008.

“I have never been on the winning side in the AFF Suzuki Cup. It is a gap in my career. I want to put that right this year,” said the 28-year-old.

Datsakorn will be gunning to avenge the loss to Singapore in the 2007 final when Khairul Amri’s thunderbolt with nine minutes left in the second leg gave the Lions a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Amri has been hobbled by a series of injuries in the past four years but he netted the only goal over two legs in a hard-fought semi-final victory against the Philippines.

That followed a group stage in which Singapore stunned neighbors Malaysia 3-0 and lost 1-0 to Indonesia, before they came from two goals down to beat unfancied Laos 4-3.

Captain Shahril Ishak has led by example by scoring four goals while 42-year-old Aleksandar Duric, set to retire after the tournament, became the competition’s oldest goal-scorer when he found the net against Malaysia.

“Like us, Thailand have a good mixture of old and young players and I think that it will be a great final with the two best teams playing for the most prestigious trophy in Southeast Asian football,” said the veteran striker.

“For me, playing my last game at the Jalan Besar Stadium for the national team will be a special moment for me. I have two games left and I will be enjoying every moment especially knowing that it is the final.”

The first leg will be played on the artificial pitch of Singapore’s Jalan Besar venue on Wednesday, with the return game at Bangkok’s Supachalasai Stadium on Saturday.

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