Football diplomacy is in full flight this week in Southeast Asia, with the region facing off for the biennial ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup. There has been some cracking good football, as the highlight reel of goals shows (below).
Football is a growing sport in the region, as shown by the ever increasing presence of English Premier League team colours decorating bars across the region. But as the AFF Cup suggests, football may also prove to be an important ingredient for the average Southeast Asian citizen to feel some 'ASEAN-ness'. With the region set to form into an ASEAN Community next year, greater ASEAN solidarity is important. Tournaments like this one, devoid of big regional neighbours, help instill this spirit.
Despite some excellent moments so far, the talk of this tournament will likely be the dramatic penalty in the dying minutes of Saturday’s Singapore-Malaysia game. Tied 1-1, Singapore would have progressed past its cross-causeway rival to the knock-out stage if not for the conversion of a controversial penalty in extra time (highlights here). Spectators hurled abuse (and bottles) at referees after the match.
Malaysia progressed along with Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines to the semi-finals.
If a fraction of Saturday night's passion could enter the ASEAN Community, the regional body would be all the stronger. For now, a good dose of ASEAN football will have to suffice.