BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The 2002 edition of the AFF Cup was the first edition to be co-hosted by Indonesia, who over the years have become more competitive in the regional tournament, having emerged finalists in the previous edition.
Indonesia were the hosts for Group A, mainly at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, while Group B was hosted by Singapore.
In this edition, Malaysia need not travel far as they were drawn in Group B alongside the hosts, Laos and defending champions Thailand, who knocked them out in the previous edition's semi-finals. Meanwhile Group A had Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines, and Indonesia.
This time around, Malaysia were led by English head coach Allan Harris, who earlier in his career was an assistant coach at Barcelona. Several names remained from the 2000 squad, namely goalkeeper Azmin Azram Abdul Aziz, defender Rosdi Talib, and forwards Hairuddin Omar and Nizaruddin Yusof. 21-year old Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli, Juzaili Samion and Indra Putra Mahayuddin also received call up for the tournament by Harris.
The then Malayan Tigers could not have asked for a better group opener, when they trounced hosts and Causeway rivals Singapore 4-0 in their first group match, on December 18. The youngsters opened the scoring, with Akmal scoring at the half hour mark, Indra netting a brace, and Nizaruddin capping a fine night for Malaysia.
Goals from the Singapore-Malaysia match.
Two days later, they would spring a bigger surprise, by defeating defending champions Thailand 3-1. The Thais, who trounced Laos 5-1 in their first group match, opened the scoring against Malaysia through star midfielder Therdsak Chaiman, but Malaysia's young strikers again showed their maturity to help their team. Akmal equalised before halftime, captain Tengku Hazman Raja Hassan gave Malaysia the lead, before Indra sealed the win with a wonderful long range effort near the end. Malaysia virtually secured qualification with one more match to go.
Goals from the Malaysia-Thailand group match.
Malaysia fans would be forgiven for thinking that 2002 would be their year, but they would be left disappointed again.
Things would start to go amiss in their last group match on December 22, against unfancied Laos. Against the bottom-placed side who had lost their two earlier group matches, Malaysia could only muster a 1-1 draw. However they still managed to qualify for the semis as Group B winners. Thailand meanwhile ended as runners up, after they drew 1-1 against Singapore in their last group match. Both Singapore and Thailand finished the group stage on four points, but the War Elephants had the superior goal difference.
In Group A, Vietnam emerged as group champions while co-hosts Indonesia were the runners up, which meant Vietnam would face Thailand while Indonesia would take on Malaysia in the semi-final stage.
And it seemed the Malaysians had peaked too soon, because playing against Indonesia at the Gelora Bung Karno, their strikers failed to produce goals as freely as they did in the first two matches. In the end, a 75th-minute goal by star striker Bambang Pamungkas was all it took for Indonesia to beat Malaysia.
In the other semi-final match, the other group champions also fell meekly to a runners up side. Vietnam were trounced 4-0 by Thailand, who unlike Malaysia, were seemingly peaking at the right time. This edition's final and the third place play-off matches had identical teams as the 2000 edition.
And just like the previous edition, Thailand again proved too strong for Indonesia, although this time both sides needed to settle the match through a penalty shootout, after the match ended 2-2 in regulation time. It was Thailand's third AFF Cup title, and they were the first side ever to win back-to-back AFF Cup titles.
But in the third place play-off, the winners were reversed. While Malaysia had beaten Vietnam in the previous edition, in 2002 it was Vietnam who would have the last laugh, when they beat Malaysia 2-1.
Malaysia's match results in 2002 AFF Cup
In anticipation of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, Goal will be reminiscing on all Malaysia's past AFF Cup campaigns until the kick off of this year's tournament. Find out what happened in the 1996, 1998 and 2000 campaigns here!