Mitsubishi Electric Cup

Key Battles That Could Decide The Final

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12 Jan 2023


It's a clash of the two most recent champions, the heavyweight nations of Southeast Asian football going head-to-head to determine just who will be regional kings.

In the frenzied heat of Hanoi and Bangkok, arguments will be settled, legends made and careers defined. Can Vietnam confirm their reputation as an emerging force or will it be Thailand that capture a record-extending seventh AFF championship title?

Over a minimum of 180 minutes there will be twists and turns, hope, belief and despair and a large part of the outcome could well be determined by some key tactical and technical tussles.

Here we take a look at just who or what could be the key battles to help settle just which nation will win the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup 2022.

The Midfield Maestros: Theerathon Bunmathan vs Nguyen Quang Hai

There can't have been too many players in world football who have made such a sensational mid-career switch from attacking full-back to midfielder orchestrator as has the Thailand captain.

Theerathon has been a huge presence for Thailand with his reading of the game, his movement, aggression off the ball and poise and passing when with it, while he has created an impressive four assists so far.

Given that he'll be tasked with also trying to stop Vietnamese superstar Nguyen Quang Hai this could be a decisive battle with the creative master a key threat for Golden Star Warriors.

Quang Hai may not have peaked yet, but a no-look pass for Nguyen Hoang Duc's goal against Malaysia in the group stage and a fantastic performance against Indonesia in the second leg of the semi-final are evidence he's ready to shine when it matters most.

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The Touchline Tacticians: Mano Polking vs Park Hang-seo

It's a clash of styles when it comes to the coaches as the progressive, attacking, philosophy of Thai boss Polking is challenged by the more controlled work of Vietnam's Park Hang-seo.

Both have led to results on the regional stage over the past half decade or so, with Park guiding Vietnam to glory in 2018 and Polking steering Thailand to the 2020 title, but which will emerge on top over the two legs of the final?

As much as their tactical methods could sway things so too could the man-management styles - that differ vastly between the pair - help to determine the outcome of the final.

For Park, it's a swan song as he steps down from his role following the tournament, while Polking is looking to become the first manager to retain the title since Kiatisuk Senamuang went back-to-back with Thailand in 2014 and 2016. 

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The Wide Wonders: Ekanit Panya vs Doan Van Hau

Whether as part of a back four or a back five, the threat of Van Hau on Vietnam's left is well established and, having missed the 2020 edition through injury, the Hanoi FC man has reminded everyone of his qualities this time round. 

A dynamic threat going forward and a solid presence defensively he's also shown an aggressive edge to his play in this tournament which will have to be kept in check by those on the right for Thailand.

That's likely to be Ekanit Panya, the 23-year-old rising force of Thai football who, with 12 chances created throughout the tournament (the third highest tally), is one of the more dangerous threats for the second-leg hosts and who will fully test the defensive resolve and discipline of Van Hau.

Ekanit has grown into the tournament and delivered his best performance yet in the second leg of the semi-final when he played a part in Thailand's second and third goals. His biggest test, however, is yet to come. 

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The Calm Custodians: Kampol Pathomakkakul vs Dang Van Lam

Thailand pulled something of a surprise as they benched the previous starter Kittipong Phuthawchueak ahead of the second leg of the semi-final against Malaysia, and with Kampol Pathomakkakul playing well and keeping a clean sheet in that match the job is seemingly his to lose for the final.

At the other end of the pitch is not just one of the best keepers of the tournament but one of the best players full-stop in Van Lam, with the Vietnamese shot-stopper - amazingly - yet to conceded a single goal through the six matches that he's played.

Indeed, both goalkeepers can boast that they have yet to be beaten, although Kampol's 90 minutes without conceding is some way short of Van Lam's 540 minutes as the Vietnamese backline have thwarted every attack they've faced.

How these two 'keepers perform as the last line of defence over the two legs will likely go a long way to determining just who lifts the trophy in Bangkok next Monday evening.