For the second successive Asian Cup finals stage, there will be no Southeast Asian country in sight. Gary Koh investigates as the tournament kicks off in Australia...
It is a far cry from past decades when national teams from South East Asia would make regular appearances in the tournament and pit themselves against the best from the continent.
With the emergence of the Middle East and Central Asia sides in Asian football, Southeast Asia has found itself relegated to the periphery as much of East Asia continues to make strides in its development of the game.
Where once the likes of Malaysia and Thailand could stand shoulder to shoulder with the heavyweights like Japan and Kuwait without feeling a sense of inferiority, it would have been considered a miracle if a Southeast Asian side had upset an Asian giant today.
Just how much much the Southeast Asian game deteriorated from the past? FourFourTwo takes a closer look at five Southeast Asia countries who have had some experience in Asian Cup finals and scrutinises each nation’s current state of the game.
AFC Asian Cup Finals Appearances: 6 (1972*, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007*)
Best Asian Cup Finish: Fourth (1972)
How did Thailand get into the Asian reckoning in the first place?
Outside of the two finals which they hosted, four successive tournament qualifications in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as an appearance in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup were indicative of Thailand’s strength in the Asian game in that period.
It also coincided with the regional dominance the War Elephants enjoyed as they swept four successive gold medals in the biennial Southeast Asian Games (until it became an Under-23 football tournament) after they came through a valiant football project to send the country to the 1992 Olympics football tournament.
Central to that golden generation were present national coach Kiatisuk Senamuang, Surachai Jattupattarapong and Dusit Chalermansan, as their collective technical strength in the outfield positions made them a force to be reckoned with in the region and beyond.
Why did they not qualify for the last couple of Asian Cup finals?
The legacy the Kiatisuk batch left behind meant successive generations of Thai national players had massive boots to fill. Until the recent Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup success, they found these boots too huge to step into.
Domestic interest in the game grew with local businessmen investing money and infrastructure at the clubs, but the locals were turned off by the leadership of Football Association of Thailand president and FIFA Executive Member Wowari Makudi.
That was attributed to a lack of continuity and stability in the national coaching set-up as erratic international line-ups and results at regional and continental level left local fans frustrated at the state of the game at the national level.
What can they do to put themselves back into qualifying contention in the next Asian Cup qualifiers?
It is clear Kiatisuk has a gameplan in mind when he spoke of how Thailand should look beyond Southeast Asia if his national team were to return to the glory days of past decades.
The core of his side – Chanatip Songkrasin, Adisark Kraisorn and Charyl Chappuis – have already proven themselves in the past couple of years, having won the SEA Games gold in 2013, reached the semi-finals of the Asian Games last year and won the AFF Suzuki Cup.
Apart from exposing the team to sterner international tests, the next step would be for them to stretch themselves individually by following in the footsteps of Teerasil Dangda and Kiatisuk by venturing overseas to enhance their football education.