After painstakingly nominating the footballers who enjoyed an outstanding year to be part of FFT’s SEA Team of the Year, the time has come to name the region’s Best XI for 2015. Below is how our dream team would line up, helmed by the coach who is fully reaping the fruits of his labour…
Kiatisuk 'Zico' Senamuang
Talk to any Thai person about football and it’s almost guaranteed that one name will come up more than any other – Zico.
That, of course, would be Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang, who comfortably claimed FourFourTwo’s title of the 2015 Southeast Asian coach of the year.
There were some other names in the mix; Ange Postecoglou’s Australia side took out this year’s Asian Cup and is well on track for more World Cup qualification, while Mario Gomez did an outstanding job with a Johor Darul Ta’zim outfit that claimed Malaysia Super League and AFC Cup honours.
But Thailand’s emergence as a budding world force gave Zico the nod this time around.
One of the most successful players to come out of Southeast Asia, he once spent a season with English club Huddersfield Town and also played in Malaysia and Singapore before attaining legendary status with Vietnamese side Hoang Anh Gia Lai.
Yet it was his performances with the national team for which he is best remembered, leading Thailand to the final round of World Cup qualifying for the first time in 2002 and still holding records for the most caps and most goals for his country.
He then managed to adapt his golden touch to the coaching ranks, leading Thailand to the 2014 ASEAN Football Championship title and earning a gold medal at this year’s SEA Games with the under-23 team.
Most importantly, he has guided the War Elephants to the top of Group F in 2018 World Cup qualification with one final fixture remaining, against Iraq on March 24 next year.
“We’re doing great right now, but I believe this squad is capable of going further,” the 42-year-old said after last month’s 4-2 win against Taiwan. “Our target is Iraq. We’re going there to get a win to ensure that we go through to the next round as group winners.”
Kiatisuk is currently working with the under-23 squad for the upcoming AFC Under-23 Championship due to take place in Qatar in January, where qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is on offer. - KT
READ ALSO FFT's 2015 Team of the Year – Defenders
Izwan Mahbud (Singapore)
Mat Ryan helped Australia to victory at the Asian Cup at the turn of the year and Hassan Sunny had an outstanding first season in Thailand, but there was still really only one possible winner here.
His breath-taking performances against Japan – not once, but twice – underlined a near-faultless season for both club and country. He has signed with Tampines Rovers, but surely greener pastures await further abroad if his current trajectory continues.
Matthew Davies (Malaysia)
Born in Australia, Davies made the decision in April this year to move to his mother’s birthplace, Malaysia, and try his luck there. Considering the 12 months he’s had, he’d be wishing he made the move sooner. At just 20 years old, he is a star in the making for both Pahang and the Malaysian national team.
Korawit Namwiset (Thailand)
The past 12 months have surely been the best of Korawit’s career. Given a dream move to Buriram United, the 29-year-old established himself in the starting 11 and helped the club to Thai Premier League, Kor Royal Cup and League Cup trophies. He is also a regular starter in the high-flying Thai national team.
Madhu Mohana (Singapore)
The dependable member of the Singapore backline managed to turn around a poor, injury-blighted 2014 in some style over the past 12 months. Performing consistently for LionsXII in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), he then formed an excellent partnership with Baihakki Khaizan in a Singapore side that enjoyed solid results this past year.
Theerathon Bummathan (Thailand)
Captain of the Thai national team at the age of just 25, Theerathon enjoyed a superb 2015. Guiding Buriram to yet another TPL title, he also excelled for his club during the Asian Champions League and has Thailand sitting pretty in the World Cup qualifiers.
Sarach Yooyen (Thailand)
Another player that produced some outstanding football in 2015, Sarach fell just short of silverware on two fronts, with his Muangthong United finishing second to Buriram in both the TPL and the recently-completed FA Cup. But his assured displays in midfield for club and country underlined the belief this 23-year-old has a big future ahead.
Andik Vermansyah (Indonesia)
This immensely talented midfielder started attracting interest from clubs overseas after breaking into Persebaya’s first team as a teenager. Linked with moves to clubs in Japan and the United States, he ultimately signed with Selangor in Malaysia. He more than vindicated that move by helping the Red Giants to Malaysia Cup glory this year.
READ ALSO Andik out to emulate Bambang and Elie
Massimo Luongo (Australia)
A youngster billed as possessing enormous potential began to realise some of that expectation in 2015, punctuated by a starring role in Australia’s successful Asian Cup campaign. Named the player of the tournament, he then earned a move to English Championship side Queens Park Rangers.
Safiq Rahim (Malaysia)
Always blessed with plenty of talent, Safiq’s matured display at the 2014 Suzuki Cup – where he claimed the golden boot – gave an indication of what was in store the following year. Johor Darul Ta’zim’s captain, he led the club to a second consecutive MSL crown plus a landmark triumph in the continental AFC Cup.
Tim Cahill (Australia)
He might be 36 and supposedly in the twilight of his career, but Australia’s record goalscorer still demanded a place in this team. Used effectively in bursts, he scored three goals in the Socceroos’ successful Asian Cup campaign. But he’s far from done, scoring a first-half hat-trick in a World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh in November.
Teerasil Dangda (Thailand)
Considering his career has already taken him to clubs in England, Switzerland, Spain and of course Thailand, it is hard to believe Teerasil is still only 27 years old. Following a lean stretch in his career, the national team veteran rediscovered his best in 2015, providing a link between midfield and attack with Muangthong United and chipping in with a healthy 18 goals of his own.