With less than two months to go until the big kick off in the AFF Suzuki Cup, we take a look at those who impressed in the latest round of international friendlies.

Holders Thailand, 2008 winners Vietnam and Myanmar had no fixtures during the period, but there were games for Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Singapore, as well as an all-ASEAN clash between Malaysia and Cambodia. 

Timor-Leste, meanwhile, secured their passage to the competition after edging past Brunei Darussalam over two legs. Looking back at the action, here's four players (and a coach) that caught the eye.

1. Keisuke Honda

The end result may not have been what the fans inside Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium had been dreaming of but, nonetheless, Keisuke Honda’s managerial career in his first game in charge of Cambodia got off to a flying start.

Looking every bit the part on the sidelines, Honda saw his new side send the packed stadium into rafters inside 20 minutes when Soeuy Visal rocketed home a stunning volley in off the crossbar to give the Cambodians the lead.

The hosts could have gone two up just after half-time before Malaysia scored three goals in the final 30 minutes as Honda’s first game ended in defeat. But a spirited display coupled with the feel-good factor in the Cambodian capital ensures Honda will be an exciting addition ahead of the AFF Suzuki Cup. 

2. Evan Dimas – Indonesia

After Indonesia’s U-23 team performed admirably at the recent Asian Games on home soil, many of the established internationals returned for the friendly outing with Mauritius, but it was a player who was part of the continental games that stole the headlines.

Evan Dimas scored on his full international debut against Laos in the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup and has been a regular starter since 2015, but the Malaysia-based midfielder had yet to find the back of the net for the Garuda’s senior team since.

That was until Tuesday when, after a commanding performance in the centre of the park, Dimas found himself in the right place at the right time, taking one touch to control the Mauritian goalkeeper’s parry and then rolling home from six yards in the final minute for a 1-0 victory. 

3. Khairul Fahmi – Malaysia

A 2-0 defeat in Chinese Taipei was a miserable start to the international break for Malaysia coach Tan Cheng Hoe, who gave goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi only his second start since late 2016 in the game against regional rivals Cambodia a few days later.

Formerly Malaysia’s first-choice ‘keeper, Khairul has been behind Hafizul Hakim in the pecking order over the past 20 months, but got his opportunity after Johor Darul Ta’zim stopper Farizal Marlias was preferred for the game in Taipei.

The Melaka United ‘keeper grabbed that chance with both hands, pulling off a number of excellent saves to deny Cambodia as Malaysia ran out 3-1 winners against opponents they will again face in Group A of the AFF Suzuki Cup. 

4. Stephan Schröck – Philippines

It was a long time in coming, but Stephan Schröck finally received a recall to the Philippines squad after new head coach Scott Cooper selected a midfielder whose last international appearance came almost two years ago at the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Since Schröck last turned out for the Azkals, they have qualified for their first ever AFC Asian Cup and judging by his performance on his first game back, a 1-1 draw with Bahrain, his experience could be invaluable as they prepare to embark on the unknown.

The 32-year-old was instrumental in Phil Younghusband’s 51st international goal, teeing up the striker, who was upended and then scored the ensuing penalty. The Germany-born Ceros Negros player can now look ahead to the new year with plenty optimism. 

5. Baihakki Khaizan – Singapore

Singapore got off to the worst possible start at home to Mauritius, going one down after just five minutes, but they recovered well and Fandi Ahmad will be satisfied with his opening two matches at the helm.

Few Singaporean players have more caps than Baihakki Khaizan, who was brought on with 30 minutes remaining and proceeded to put in a dominant performance at the heart of the defence. Singapore levelled but the island nation could have won it late on had it not been for more excellent work from the experienced campaigner.

Four days later against Fiji, Baihakki played the full 90 minutes and was again superb in the air and controlled on the deck. The Singapore backline was not breached with the Udon Thani defender on the pitch, while the Lions came out of the international break with heads held high.


 Photos: Getty Images