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AFF Championship

AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup 2022: Theerathon strike seals the deal as Thailand in seventh heaven

3:14 am AEDT 17/1/23
Theerathon Bunmathan - Thailand - AFF Cup 2022 final
Thailand will take on Vietnam in the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup

A long range strike from fullback Theerathon Bunmathan settled the score on a cagey night in Bangkok as Thailand held firm to beat Vietnam 1-0 (3-2 agg.) and secure a record-extending seventh AFF Championship title.

Following a 2-2 draw in the first leg in Hanoi, it was the War Elephants who came into this one with a slender advantage- with the away goals rule in place, Vietnam would need to score, and any goal by Thailand would make their task significantly harder. The match got off to a lively start, as a mistake from centre-back Bui Hoang Viet Anh’s mistake just five minutes in presented Adisak Kraisorn with a chance to open the scoring, but Thailand’s number nine couldn’t make it count.

Just three minutes later, Nguyen Hoang Duc cut in from the right and fired a shot over the goal before Nguyen Tien Linh failed to connect properly with a rather ambitious overhead kick in front of the Thailand goal. It was an impressive start from the visitors, who knew the scale of the challenge in front of them.

However, as they so often do, Thailand slowly wrested control of possession, and began knocking it about waiting for the Golden Stars to press them high. It was a game plan which paid off- a slick passing move midway through the first half saw Peeradon Chamratsamee and Adisak exchange passes on the edge of the Vietnam area, before the latter teed up Theerathon to smash home a long-range drive from outside the box. It was a great way to cap off a stellar campaign for the Thai captain on the night, who also ended the tournament as the top assist provider, with six.

Mano Polking’s men continued to frustrate the visitors, restricting them to half chances, but an opportunity did soon arrive for the Golden Stars. Tien Linh, joint top scorer with Teerasil Dangda of Thailand with six goals, was played in behind the Thai defence in a rare foray forward from Vietnam in the 28th minute, only for the forward to get the shot badly wrong.

Park Hang-seo soon threw on Nguyen Quang Hai in place of Nguyen Tuan Anh in the 36th minute in an effort to turn things around, but it was Thailand who ended the half on top, nearly doubling their advantage as Poramet Arjvirai failed to turn in a low cross from Sasalak Haiprakhon five minutes from time.

It was all about game management in the second half for the record champions, and didn’t they do it well, with the usually effervescent Vietnam frontline looking rather lacklustre on the night. With no luck trying to break through the Thai defence, Hoang Duc tried his luck with a pot shot from range that flew wide of Kampol Pathomakkakul’s goal in the 58th minute.

Thailand so nearly got the killer second in the 75th minute, as Theerathon’s quick free-kick released Bordin Phala, but Do Duy Manh got back to block the Thai frontman’s effort and keep his side in the game. Peeradon later saw a second yellow card in second-half stoppage time, but it mattered little as Thailand kept Vietnam at bay for the remainder of the second leg to claim back-to-back titles.

The War Elephants are now seven time winners of the Southeast Asian championship, with three more titles than their nearest rivals, Singapore. It was a swashbuckling and assured display of competence from a side which one can really only describe as the greatest in the region.