SINGAPORE — Thailand clinched a record sixth AFF Championship on Saturday (1 January), after a 2-2 second-leg draw over Indonesia at the National Stadium gave them a 6-2 aggregate win to reclaim the Suzuki Cup they last won in 2016.
Most of the Thais' work was done in Wednesday's 4-0 first-leg victory, but they still had to withstand a first-half barrage of attack as Indonesia tried desperately not to end up as losing finalists for the sixth time.
Two quick-fire goals in the second half, however, ensured the Thais' grip on the trophy, as they registered the biggest aggregate win since the Suzuki Cup final became a two-legged affair in 2002.
Even before the opening whistle, Indonesia were rocked by news that four of their players - Elkan Baggott, Victor Igbonefo, Rizky Ramadhani and Rizky Febrianto - were expelled from the tournament for breaching the team's controlled itinerary in place as part of the competition's safe management measures.
Under the controlled itinerary, players and officials can move only among their assigned hotels, training venues and competition venues. They cannot travel anywhere or engage in any activity that is beyond the itinerary.
The four players were found to have left their hotel on one of the evenings.
Despite the huge setback, the Indonesians still managed to score an early goal to give them hope of somehow overturning the huge first-leg deficit. Midfielder Ricky Kambuaya's speculative drive from outside the penalty box in the seventh minute somehow squirmed through Thai goalkeeper Siwarak Tedsungnoen's hands and rolled into the net.
Buoyed by that glimmer of hope, Indonesia stepped up their intensity in search of more goals, and the match descended into a series of niggling fouls with the Thais defending resolutely after Siwarak's gaffe.
Their nerves were finally settled in the 54th minute when they grabbed an equaliser for a 5-1 aggregate advantage. Bhordin Phala attempt was parried away by Indonesia goalkeeper Nadeo Argawinata but up stepped veteran striker Adisak Kraison - who had come on as a half-time substitute in place of Teerasil Dangda - to slam the ball home.
Two minutes later, Thailand added another goal against their demoralised opponents, as Sarach Yooyen's piledriver from outside the box bulleted into the net to set off raucous celebration among the Thai fans at the stadium.
Egy Maulana got Indonesia's second goal of the night with a well-taken shot in the 80th minute.
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