Following the win by Vietnam in 2008 and then Malaysia in 2010, it has injected renewed vigour into the AFF Suzuki Cup.
The Philippines showed that they have finally arrived in the scene where their tremendous performance at the last edition in 2010 has certainly created a buzz around Asia.
And for the first time too, the Philippines did not have to play in the qualifying round after their semifinal appearance at the last meet.
The five lowest ranked teams played in the qualifiers that was held in Yangon, Myanmar with the hosts playing in the qualifiers for the first time ever while the meet also welcomed the return of Brunei following FIFA’s lifting of the suspension.
After nine days of intense competition at the Thuwunna Stadium, hosts Myanmar made the cut to the final rounds alongside Laos.
The final rounds of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup saw current champions Malaysia playing hosts alongside Thailand.
The National Stadium in Bukit Jalil was the main venue in Malaysia with Shah Alam Stadium as the secondary while for Thailand, it was the Rajamangala National Stadium as the main and Supachalasai Stadium as the alternative.
GROUP A – Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar
Under German Winfried Schafer and playing in front of their home fans gave Thailand all the confidence they needed to win the group with a perfect record to score nine goals and conceding just twice.
With Teeraton Bunmathan and also Chanathip Songkrasin in a relatively young squad, Thailand had all the ingredients to go all the way following some strong performances in the group stage.
The Philippines showed that their win over Vietnam two years earlier was no fluke when they beat the same side again with the only goal coming off Emilio Caligdong.
With a fortified squad to add to the Younghusband twins and also Patrick Reichelt, the Philippines confirmed their place in their second semifinals in two editions.
For Vietnam, the loss to the Philippines put paid to their ambition to the next round even though they had quality in players like Le Tan Tai and also Le Cong Vinh in their side.
Myanmar still struggled for a credible performance although they saw the debut of a young Kyi Lin and also David Htan into the mix.
GROUP B – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos
The battle was keen in the group where as usual, late starter Malaysia fell to a loss to Singapore in the opening game before recovering enough to win their remaining two matches to squeeze into the semifinals.
Hosts Malaysia still had Datuk K. Rajagobal manning the boat and while they may have had the same players as two years ago in Safee Sali and also Mohd Safiq Rahim, they just could not muster the same hunger.
On the other hand, Singapore were confident with Serbian Radojko Avramovic still in the hot seat in the squad that had veteran Aleksandar Duric and also David Bennett, their loss to Indonesia in the second game in the group would prove pivotal.
The only goal of the game came off Andik Vermansyah towards the tail end of a close encounter.
But while Indonesia had the speed of Elie Aiboy to rely on, their failure to beat Malaysia in the crucial tie allowed the hosts the chance for a place in the semifinals
For Laos and even though they had the wily Khampheng Sayavutthi much of the excitement, they were still short in the other department to be effective.
The Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila played hosts to the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time ever in the semifinals but it did not give the Philippines the cheer they sorely yearned for as the game ended in a scoreless stalemate.
That failure to win at home played into Singapore’s hands as they duly won the return leg with Muhammad Khairul Amri Kamal scoring the only goal of the game early in the 19th minute.
In the meantime, Malaysia also failed to make their home advantage count when they played to a 1-1 draw at home before losing to Thailand in the return tie.
A goal each from Teerasil Dangda and then Teeraton Bunmathan put Thailand in their sixth finals since 1996.
In the first final at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore completely overwhelmed Thailand to win 3-1 to take a huge advantage for the return tie.
For the encounter in Bangkok, Singapore played a patient game to frustrate Thailand. And while the hosts still managed to score a goal when Kirati Keawsombat popped in the winner at the very end of the first half, it was not enough to overturn the deficit.
Singapore were crowned champions – the first country to win a fourth ASEAN title.
ROLL OF HONOUR
Philippines / Malaysia