15 years after co-hosting AFC Asian Cup, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are back on their own merit – ESPN India

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Back in July 2007, history was made when the 14th edition of the AFC Asian Cup was held in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
It was not just from because it was the first time the tournament was shared among co-hosts — and not the usual two but between four countries.
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The fact that it was also jointly held in the region meant it marked the first time that four Southeast Asian nations — geographically at least — featured at the same Asian Cup. (Australia, who made their Asian Cup debut in 2007 after joining the Asian Football Confederation, are also a member of the ASEAN Football Federation).
Since then, the quartet has had contrasting fortunes. Almost all have — at some point in time — been down in the doldrums but, while some have risen back up, others have taken awhile longer.
Remarkably, as the final round of qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup concluded on Tuesday, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia will once again be flying the flag for Southeast Asia on the continent’s biggest stage next year.
And this time, not by virtue of being granted a spot as a host nation, but having qualified on their own merit.
June 14, 2022 should henceforth go down as a big day for ASEAN football although — rather poetically — it was exactly 365 days earlier when Vietnam were the first to book their place at the Asian Cup at the end of the previous stage of qualifiers.
As one of just 12 teams marching on into the next round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Vietnamese have long known they would be featuring at the Asian Cup again — for a second consecutive appearance after an impressive run to the quarterfinals in 2019.
Featuring at next year’s tournament will be the next chapter of what has been a golden era for Vietnam under coach Park Hang-seo following some duller days. Since his appointment in 2017, they have won the AFF Championship, two Southeast Asian Games gold medals, finished runners-up at the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship, as well as a fourth-place finish at an Asian Games.
Vietnam have certainly emerged as powerhouses of the region in the past few years, although their status as top dogs has been challenged by Thailand, who claimed a record-extending 6th AFF crown at the start of the year and look reinvigorated since Alexandre Polking was handed the reins.
Polking’s appointment came after the War Elephants came up short in their quest to reach the final round of Asian qualifiers for the World Cup, but they already look well on their way to rescaling the lofty heights they previously reached.
Their last steps to reach next year’s Asian Cup were fairly routine as opening victories over Maldives and Sri Lanka proved enough to secure their progress with a game to spare, although ending the campaign with a 2-0 defeat to Uzbekistan on Tuesday will serve as a reminder of the gap they still need to make up between themselves and some of Asia’s traditionally stronger teams.
The Asian Cup would be a recent memory for the Vietnamese and the Thais. The same cannot be said for Southeast Asia’s two other qualifiers.
While Thailand’s final outing may have had little at stake, it was a far different story for Malaysia — who headed into their game against Bangladesh still yet to book their tickets but with their destiny very much in their own hands.
Despite having to survive a bit of a scare in the first half when Bangladesh cancelled out Safawi Rasid‘s opener, Harimau Malaya ultimately steadied to claim a 4-1 win — qualifying for the Asian Cup on merit for the first time since the 1980 edition.
Likewise, in the final game of the evening, history beckoned for Indonesia with millions all across the country staying up into the wee hours of the morning with bated breath, with their clash against Nepal kicking off at 2:15 a.m. Jakarta time.
90 minutes later, it proved to be worth the wait – and the stifled yawns that are likely to follow the morning after — as the Indonesians claimed a resounding 7-0 win that guaranteed an Asian Cup berth of their own in style.
With that, the quartet was completed.
15 years on from co-hosting the tournament, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are all heading to the Asian Cup together again. And on their own merit too.


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