With nine teams taking part following the withdrawal of Brunei, and with no qualifiers being held for the third edition of the AFF Tiger Cup, the tournament was held in Thailand at two venues.
Group A was placed up north at the 700th Anniversary Stadium in Chiangmai while Group B played all their matches down south at the Tinsulanon Stadium in Songkhla.
As always, the competition was very keen as the turn of the new century saw the introduction of a handful of players who will carve their name into the annals of ASEAN superstardom.
After the last two editions with Thailand (1996) taking the first title and then Singapore (1998) taking the second crown, the onus was on the other teams to close the gap and put up a tougher challenge.
With Thailand having won the SEA Games crown the year before in Brunei, they once again come into the tournament as the firm favourites.
GROUP A – Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines
It was a tournament for Thailand to take and with the return of prodigal son Kiatisak Senamuang and playing at home, gave the Thais all the confidence they needed to make their intentions known.
With Tawan Sripan and Sutee Suksomkit, Thailand swept past their opponents for a perfect record of three wins from three matches for nine goals and conceding twice.
It left Indonesia = which saw the debut of the prolific Bambang Pamungkas alongside Ismed Sofyan – to take the second spot from the group while Myanmar and the Philippines finished the group stage in that order.
Incidentally, the final standings in the group stage were the same as it was two years ago in Vietnam.
GROUP B – Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Laos
An unimpressive start for defending champions Singapore spelled trouble.
Even though they had basically the same players like Aide Iskandar and also R. Sasikumar, who had won the tournament two years ago, losses to Vietnam and then Malaysia ensured their exit from the group stage.
For Vietnam with Le Huynh Duc in the captain’s armband and after making the final of the SEA Games the year before, gave the squad under Alfred Riedl a lot of confidence.
They did not drop a game to win the group with their only draw against Malaysia, who made the decision to recall their stalwarts like Azman Adnan and Hairuddin Omar back instead of relying on the youngsters two years ago.
This allowed them to finish the group stage behind Vietnam as Singapore finished third while Cambodia and Laos occupy the fourth and fifth spot in the group respectively.
In the semifinals at the Rajamangala Stadium, Alfred Riedl failed to deliver Vietnam their second final in two editions when they fell to a 3-2 loss to Indonesia after extra time.
Gendut Doni Christiawan, who had delivered Indonesia’s first goal, struck the winner in the very last minute of extra time to guide his team to their first-ever final of the championship.
On the other hand, Thailand need not suffer such drama as they dumped Malaysia with two outright goals from who else but Kiatisak and Tawan.
It was all business in the final as Thailand romped to their second AFF Tiger Cup crown with a thumping 4-1 win over Indonesia – with lanky striker Woorawot Srimaka scoring a hat trick.
ROLL OF HONOUR