Some of Southeast Asia’s strongest sides took part in the football tournament at the recent Asian Games in Indonesia, where predominantly U-23 teams were mixed with a sprinkling of overage players.

A number of the star performers are likely to take to the field in the AFF Suzuki Cup later this year and, with the group stage kicking off in November, we highlight five players whose time to shine may well arrive on ASEAN’s biggest footballing stage. 

1. Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam)

Nguyen Quang Hai has been the standout player in an exceptional year for Vietnam’s talented U-23 side, with the midfielder scoring five – including some stunning efforts from distance – as the country finished runners-up at the AFC U23 Championship in China earlier in 2018.

The 21-year-old was again key in Vietnam’s strong Asian Games campaign, scoring his side’s opening goal of the competition in a 3-0 win over Pakistan, before netting the only goal of the game against Japan as the Vietnamese advanced to the knockout rounds with a perfect record.

The creative spark of a side that reached the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship semi-finals, Quang Hai made his senior team debut in 2017 and already has one goal to his name. With a wand of a left foot, the attacking midfielder may be the man to fire Vietnam to a first Suzuki Cup title since 2008. 

2. Safawi Rasid (Malaysia)

There is a real buzz about Safawi Rasid’s potential and it’s easy to see why when watching the 21-year-old in action. The forward plays with maturity beyond his years, has the ability to cut through opposing defences and strikes the ball with devastating accuracy.

Safawi netted penalties against Kyrgyzstan and Bahrain in the Asian Games group stage but it was against a star-studded South Korea side desperate for gold that he really shone as the Johor Darul Ta’zim forward bagged a brace in a stunning 2-1 win to seal last 16 qualification.

Malaysia’s run ended in the first knockout round, as it did at the AFC U23 Championship earlier in the year, when Safawi netted twice. The forward narrowly missed out on Ong Kim Swee’s squad for the 2016 Suzuki Cup, he won’t this time – in fact, he may just be the first name on it.

3. Stefano Lilipaly (Indonesia)

Since playing a starring role in Indonesia’s run to the 2016 Suzuki Cup final, Netherlands-born Stefano Lilipaly has developed into his country’s key player, and his performances on home soil in the Asian Games only underlined his importance to the Garuda.

A second-half brace against Chinese Taipei in their opening game calmed any nerves the home side may have been feeling and, needing a win in their final group game against Hong Kong, the midfielder popped up with the decisive second goal five minutes from time in a 3-1 victory.

Lilipaly netted a 95th-minute equaliser against the UAE in the last 16 and scored from the spot in the ensuing shootout, but the hosts eventually exited. Crucial goals are commonplace and, as a man for the big occasion, all eyes will be on the 28-year-old as Indonesia seek their maiden Suzuki Cup. 

4. Supachok Sarachat (Thailand)

It’s fair to say Thailand’s next generation have not enjoyed their finest year, after three defeats on the bounce spelled the end of their AFC U23 Championship and two points from three matches at the Asian Games saw them eliminated behind Bangladesh.

But from an largely inexperienced squad, 20-year-old Supachok Sarachat is perhaps the most likely to join the senior team at the Suzuki Cup, having already made his debut in the War Elephants’ World Cup qualifying campaign and boasting AFC Champions League experience with Buriram United.

It was a relatively young Thai team that lifted the 2016 Suzuki Cup and, if Supachok can finish the domestic season strongly, Thailand’s 2017 Young Player of the Year may well find himself selected among his country’s elite as they target an unprecedented third successive Suzuki Cup.

5. Maung Maung Lwin (Myanmar)

Of all the Southeast Asian teams at the Asian Games, Myanmar were undoubtedly the unluckiest. All four teams in their group finished on four points, three qualified for the knockout rounds and only Myanmar were eliminated – by virtue of goal difference.

Maung Maung Lwin rifled home Myanmar’s opening goal of the tournament in the 1-1 draw against DPR Korea, before helping his side round off their group stage with a stunning 2-0 win over Iran that saw them, heartbreakingly, just a goal away from advancing.

The winger, a regular for the senior national team, scored three for Yangon United in this season’s AFC Cup. His link up play with Myanmar’s main attacking threat and former Yangon teammate Aung Thu will be key if they are to repeat their 2016 feat and reach the Suzuki Cup semi-finals.

Photos: Getty Images