Although some of the region’s stars such as Chanathip Songkrasin (opted out), Nguyen Cong Phuong and Ikhsan Fandi (both injured) will not be part of the 2022 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship, there are still players who could light up the tournament. The Straits Times’ Ervin Ang picks six players to watch.
1. Nguyen Quang Hai, 25, Vietnam
The attacking midfielder played key roles in Vietnam’s victorious 2018 AFF Championship campaign and their historic run to the 2019 Asian Cup quarter-finals.
His athleticism and sharp passing ability earned him a move to second-tier French side Pau FC in June. He has made 11 appearances and scored once.
Although clubs are not obliged to release players for the event, which is not on Fifa’s calendar, Pau coach Didier Tholot granted Hai’s wish to play in the competition as Vietnam bid to give coach Park Hang-seo a victorious farewell.
2. Theerathon Bunmathan, 32, Thailand
Without a host of key players, including three-time Most Valuable Player award winner Chanathip Songkrasin, Thailand will have to count on captain Theerathon to lead a group of fresh-faced players at this tournament.
The Buriam United defender, who won the J1 League title with Yokohama F. Marinos in 2019, was also part of the War Elephants’ AFF Cup-winning sides in 2016 and 2020. He possesses superb ball control, which allows him to fill in at central midfield if required.
3. Shawal Anuar, 31, Singapore
With 14 goals and 10 assists for Hougang United in 2022, winger Shawal Anuar enters the Lions’ campaign in red-hot form.
The 31-year-old doubled his goal tally for Singapore with a brace against Maldives last Saturday. With talisman Ikhsan Fandi ruled out of the tournament, Shawal could be entrusted with a bigger role up front.
4. Jordi Amat, 30, Indonesia
The most high-profile player on this list, defender Jordi Amat had featured in the Premier League for Swansea City and in La Liga for Real Betis.
The Spain-born player has Indonesian ancestry through his grandmother and switched allegiance to Shin Tae-yong’s side only in November.
Indonesia have one of the youngest squads – with an average age of 24.2 – and Amat’s experience will be crucial for the 2021 finalists as they bid for a maiden AFF Championship title after six runners-up finishes.
5. Safawi Rasid, 25, Malaysia
In the absence of a host of Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) regulars such as Safiq Rahim, La’Vere Corbin-Ong and Shahrul Saad, Safawi Rasid is the only stand-out player in the Malaysian squad.
Coach Kim Pan-gon is likely to rely on the mercurial talent of the 25-year-old, who has racked up 18 goals for Harimau Malaya and recently inked a loan deal with Thai League One side Ratchaburi after five years at JDT.
6. Mark Hartmann, 30, Philippines
Without the attacking trio of Gerrit Holtmann, Bienvenido Maranon and Patrick Reichelt, Philippines will have to count on their journeyman forward Hartmann to emerge from a tough Group A which also includes Thailand and Indonesia.
The Swindon Town academy graduate had played for various South-east Asian clubs, including Geylang International, in the last decade. A forward blessed with strong physique and penalty-box instincts, he has eight goals in 35 appearances for the Azkals and is now playing for Philippines’ top side United City.