Southeast Asia's premier footballing event, previously known as the Tiger Cup, the AFF Championship has long been regarded as a yardstick for the region's international development. And the 2007 installment has thus far proven no let-down as fans from across the region have been treated to an enthralling six days in which three of the four 2007 Asian Cup co-hosts - Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore - booked passage to the semi-finals.
There was little argument about Group B being the more difficult of the two sections, as three of the four teams finished level on five points, with hosts and defending champions Singapore and Vietnam only advancing by the virtue of a superior goals tally. The result leaves Indonesia holding onto the dubious distinction of being the only 2007 Asian Cup co-host to tumble out of contention.
While the three big boys all shared the spoils against each other, and with Vietnam holding Singapore to a goalless draw in the opener before the hosts and Indonesia drew 2-2 on Wednesday, it was a load of goals against Laos that really separated the sides.
In light of this strange dynamic, Peter Withe's Indonesia must be ruing their poor form against Laos on the opening day as they only managed a 3-1 victory. Two days later, cheered on by a vociferous home crowd, striker Noh Alam Shah scored seven times as Singapore trounced Laos 11-0. Alfred Riedl's Vietnam also fired nine unanswered goals past Laos in the last match to qualify for the semi-final stage just behind Singapore.
While there were no big surprises in Group A, the opening day of Group B saw unfancied Myanmar nearly pull off a stunning 1-1 result against hosts Thailand, who had to count on a late strike from Suchao Nutnum four minutes into second-half stoppage time to save their blushes.
But the hosts were quick to find their feet in the next games with wins over the Philippines (4-0) and Malaysia (1-0) to win the group. Despite the single-goal defeat against the hosts in their last match, Malaysia, who failed to find the net in a goalless draw against a resilient Myanmar, scraped into the last four thanks to an opening victory over the Philippines (4-0) while Myanmar, although impressing by hanging admirably with the group's two fancied teams, were inexplicably held to a scoreless draw by the Philippines in the last match to bring an end to their fairy tale run.
Group A winners Thailand will now take on Group B's second-place finishers Vietnam in the two-legged semi-final, while Singapore meet Malaysia in the other series.
Who will lift the Cup?
Few are betting against Thailand as the three-time Tiger Cup winners cross swords against Vietnam in the first leg on 23 January. Having won gold at the Southeast Asian Games a record 12 times and dominating the Tiger Cup in 1996, 2000 and 2002, their regional domination has rarely been challenged.
Thailand, too, could find inspiration in numerous wins over their ASEAN neighbours, the latest coming in December's King's Cup when they defeated Vietnam both in the opener (2-1) and the final (3-1) to lift the trophy. However, under Austrian coach Alfred Riedl, Vietnam can also boast a memorable 3-0 victory over Thailand in the 1998 Tiger Cup that saw the favourites miss out on the final. While the return of striking veteran Kiatisuk "Zico" Senamuang will boost morale in the Thai camp, confidence in Vietnam's dressing room is also on the up with the recent emergence of scoring prodigy Le Cong Vinh, who scored two winning goals in the team's runners-up run in the King's Cup before completing a hat trick in Vietnam's 9-0 win over Laos.
Radojko Avramovic's Singapore are strong favourites to book a place in the final. The holders look far superior to neighbours Malaysia given their relatively surprising performances in last year's qualification campaign for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup. Avramovic's outfit stunned group favorites Iraq 2-0 in the opening game before upsetting China in a marvelous goalless draw.