Following a disappointing campaign in 1998, any doubts that Thailand were the dominant side in the ASEAN Football Championship were quickly put to rest when they triumphed in the tournament on home soil in 2000.

It was their second success in the event ― they won the inaugural championship in 1996 ― and it followed on from their ninth victory in the SEA Games, 12 months earlier.

Back in 1994, their coach Thawatchai Satjakul had put together the famous Thai “Dream Team” with the likes of Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang, Tawan Sripan and Dusit Chalermsan.

And six years later ― with former Aston Villa and England striker Peter Withe at the helm ― Zico, Tawan and Dusit were still in glorious form, and along with Worrawoot Srimaka, the Thai team had lost none of their dreamy dynamic.

Ghosts of 1998

The War Elephants had suffered on and off the pitch two years earlier when they were thumped 3-0 by Vietnam in the semi-finals – this coming a match after a hugely controversial game with Indonesia.

In perhaps the most infamous match in Thailand’s history they beat Indonesia 3-2, thanks to a 90th minute own goal. Thailand lost the play-off for third and fourth place against Indonesia, on penalties.

Thailand had also been without their star forward “Zico”, who had played such a pivotal role in their first AFF victory.

Business as usual

For the 2000 championship, “Zico” returned to the fray and was fresh from being top scorer in the 1999 SEA Games, where the War Elephants beat Vietnam 2-0 in the final.

In the 1996 final, Zico had scored the winner against Malaysia and after the turmoil of 1998 his return to the ASEAN Football Championship was a welcome relief for everyone, not just his team-mates.

The Thais breezed through Group A undefeated, beating Myanmar 3-1, Indonesia 4-1, and the Philippines 2-0.

Indonesia finished second in the Group ― which was played in Chiang Mai ― to progress to the semis.

Vietnam and Malaysia finished tied for points at the top of Group B, held in Songkhla way down south, but the Vietnamese took top spot on goal difference.

The two teams won all their matches but had played out a goalless draw when they met each other.

Both sides defeated defending champions Singapore 1-0 to send the Lion City side home early.

Knockout performances

Thailand had no problem dispatching Malaysia in their semi-final. Two first-half goals from Zico and Tawan were good enough to beat the Tigers, in what was a rematch of the 1996 final.

The semi-finals were played at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok and in the other head-to-head, between Vietnam and Indonesia, it was far from simple.

Twice Indonesia went ahead only for Vietnam to equalise each time.

Vietnam’s Vu Cong Tuyen got the decisive second goal for his side in the 90th minute to send the match into extra-time.

And just when it looked like it would go to penalties, Indonesia’s Gendut Christiawan, who had opened the scoring in the first half, fired home the winner in the dying seconds for a dramatic and famous victory.

Déjà vu victory

The final between Thailand and Indonesia, at a sold out and energised Rajamangala, was almost a carbon copy of their encounter in the group stages.

The War Elephants again triumphed 4-1 with Worrawoot setting up camp at the opponents’ goal. The 28-year-old scored twice in their first match and in the final struck a hat-trick in the first 32 minutes.

Indonesia were no match for the home side, who took the lead after just 14 minutes when Worrawoot headed in Tanongsak Prajakkata’s cross from deep on the left.

Four minutes later he fired home from 12 yards after an error by the Indonesian defence allowed Tawan’s through-ball to reach the BEC Tero Sasana striker.

The Indonesians fought back bravely. Within a minute Thailand’s lead was reduced when Uston Nawawi curled the ball round the defensive wall after a lay-off by Kurniawan Yulianto as part of a well-worked free-kick routine.

But Worrawoot restored the two-goal cushion 13 minutes later. After forcing a reflex save out of Indonesian goalkeeper Hendro Kartiko he headed in the resultant corner from the right by Tawan to claim the first hat-trick of the tournament. 

That made him joint top scorer with Gendut Christiawan with five goals, all the Thai’s strikes coming in two matches against the Indonesians.

Thailand continued to control the game in the second half and it was no surprise when they claimed their fourth, Tanongsakm turning on the edge of the area before beating Kartiko low and to his right after 66 minutes.

Earlier in the day, Malaysia secured third place in the play-off against Vietnam with a 3-0 win.

Only the beginning

The Most Valuable Player award went to none other than “Zico” – whose affinity with the tournament was only to grow stronger and stronger.

Many more honours were to follow for Thailand’s hero in the competition with the 2000 edition acting as something of a springboard to even greater success.

And a second ASEAN Football Championship title for his country, along with the nine SEA Games gold medals, further helped cement their status as the most successful team in Southeast Asia.