2016 AFF Suzuki Cup – The race for the Golden Boot
Only once in the 10 previous editions of the AFF Suzuki Cup has the Golden Boot winner finished with a double-figure haul.
As standards improve across the board it seems unlikely we’ll see a repeat of that when the current tournament gets underway this weekend in Manila.
Noh Alam Shah is the lone man who holds that record (in addition to being the all-time tournament leading scorer), knocking in 10 goals at the 2007 edition, but even that mark was heavily skewed by his seven goals in Singapore’s 11-0 thrashing of Laos.
Remarkably five of those goals came in the final half hour of the match and that 30-minute period alone would have been enough to see him top the scoring charts in five other Suzuki Cups, a tournament which generally has a reputation of being low-scoring.
In the four editions after 2007, the Golden Boot winners finished with four goals (shared by three players in 2008), five (Safee Sali in 2010), five (Teerasil Dangda in 2012) and six (Safiq Rahim in 2014), with no player managing to equal or better the goal-per-game mark that sets aside the elite strikers.
So who are the leading contenders this time around?
With the possible exception of Cambodia, there are no real rank outsiders amongst the eight finalists and much of the discussion around Golden Boot contenders probably centres on which nations you fancy to progress to the semi-finals.
Starting with Group A, most believe the two qualifiers will be co-hosts Philippines along with Thailand, which means the list of potential contenders is narrowed to probably three or four players.
With their title on the line they should breeze through Group A and the main man up front is once again expected to be Teerasil Dangda
Javier Patino, who playes for Henan in the Chinese Super League, will miss out for the Azkals, leaving compatriots Phil Younghusband and Misagh Bahadoran as other contenders for top scoring honours.
Although Thailand had struggled to score in recent outings – just one goal in past five matches prior to this week’s 2-2 draw with Australia – those fixtures were against some of the continent’s leading powers and dropping back to regional level they should click straight back into gear.
With their title on the line they should breeze through Group A and the main man up front is once again expected to be the joint 2008 & 2012 Golden Boot winner Teerasil Dangda, who will be aiming to also move up the all-time charts where he currently sits ninth.
Across in Group B, hosts Myanmar made the surprise decision to axe a player who is widely regarded as their best attacking talent in Kyaw Ko Ko which means another contender has to emerge.
The most likely man seems to be Yadanarbon forward Win Naing Soe or perhaps a wildcard in the shape of recent call-up Kaung Sett Naing, who plies his trade in the Thai second division with Samut Sakhon.
Cambodia are the clear outsiders in the section but do possess an exceptional talent up front in the prolific Chan Vathanaka, whilst Malaysia will be pinning their scoring hopes on Selangor hitman Hazwan Bakri, with Felda winger Hadin Azman an outside shot at snaring the top scoring honours.
That leaves a rapidly improving Vietnam side which should reach the semi-finals. With a core group of technically outstanding midfielders, it wouldn’t surprise to see veteran Le Cong Vinh, in his final tournament for the Golden Stars, top the charts.
Let’s take a closer look at seven Golden Boot contenders:
TEERASIL DANGDA (THAILAND)
The only player to have topped the goalscoring lists twice in Suzuki Cup history, the 28-year-old enters the tournament in good form, having scored both goals in Thailand’s 2-2 draw with Australia this week.
LE CONG VINH (VIETNAM)
The Vietnamese captain and all-time leading scorer sits fourth on the all-time Suzuki Cup goalscoring list and is still the key presence in front of goal for a nation that’s tipped to do well.
MISAGH BAHADORAN (PHILIPPINES)
With the withdrawal of China-based star Javier Patino competition for spots at the head of the Azkals' attack is wide open. Along with Phil Younghusband and possibly even Stephan Schrock, the leading contender appears to be former national futsal star Bahadoran, who scored the match winner as the Philippines defeated Kyrgyzstan 1-0 last week.
AHMAD HAZWAN BAKRI (MALAYSIA)
Scoring at almost a goal every two games for the national team, the Selangor forward was again on target in Malaysia’s final warm-up against Papua New Guinea and looms as his nation’s main outlet in front of goal.
BOAZ SOLOSSA (INDONESIA)
He has an outstanding scoring record at club level throughout a decorated career and may be the main source of goals for an Indonesian team that doesn’t appear to have an out-and-out ‘lethal’ forward in the squad.
WIN NAING SOE (MYANMAR)
After the surprise axing of leading man Kyaw Ko Ko, Myanmar enter the tournament with virtually an untried forward line. But in the Yadanarbon front man they have a player in good domestic form after he scored 22 goals in all competitions and was the league’s top scorer this season.
CHAN VATHANAKA (CAMBODIA)
Although not expected to progress from the group, Cambodia do have goals in them and the prolific back-to-back leading domestic goalscorer should be the main outlet.