The main men to look out for at AFF Suzuki Cup 2020

With AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 finally kicking off this Sunday following a year's delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ten teams will finally get the chance to do battle in the quest to become champions of Southeast Asia once more.

In the tournament's 25-year history, there has been no shortage of standout individual displays and, given the condensed nature of the competition, it is quite possible for a player to singlehandedly lead his nation to glory.

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Here, we look at the ten who could be pivotal to their teams' prospects of success.

Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)

A two-time Suzuki Cup Most Valuable Player in 2014 and 2016, Chanathip Songkrasin's return to the squad after missing out three years ago highlights just how seriously Thailand are taking the competition.

The silky-skilled playmaker has been widely regarded as the best player in the region for a number of years now, and will offer the War Elephants a cutting edge in the attacking third that they sorely lacked in 2018.

Ikhsan Fandi (Singapore)

It might seem strange to suggest that -- at just the age of 22 -- Ikhsan Fandi could be the most influential player for Singapore, but he is the one legitimate avenue to goals for a team sorely lacking in attacking potency.

Ikhsan, currently playing in Norway with Jerv, scored three of the seven goals the Lions managed in the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, for a creditable total of eight in just 18 caps so far.

Maung Maung Lwin (Myanmar)

As part of the Myanmar side that famously qualified for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Maung Maung Lwin belonged to a generation that was expected to lead the country to greater heights in the footballing sphere.

Although Myanmar's progress has stagnated after a silver medal at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games was followed by a semifinal appearance at the Suzuki Cup the following year, Maung Maung Lwin has developed as expected into one of theirleading performers having also gained valuable experience in the AFC Cup with Yangon United.

Stephan Schrock (Philippines)

Although Philippines' initial rise in Southeast Asian football was fuelled by the Younghusband brothers, James and Phil, the Azkals' cause has been led by Stephan Schrock in more recent times.

Boasting experience in the Bundesliga from his time with Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt, the evergreen 35-year-old often performs at a higher level than the opposition and will once again be the heartbeat of Philippines in the engine room.

Rufino Gama (Timor-Leste)

As Southeast Asia's youngest nation, Timor-Leste are still finding their feet in the Suzuki Cup and have lost all eight matches they have featured in so far, although it has not stopped them from showing their fair share of positives.

In 2018, they gave an excellent account of themselves in two-goal defeats to Indonesia and Philippines, with forward Rufino Gama doing his best to keep them competitive with his two-goal haul.

Nguyen Tien Linh (Vietnam)

All eyes will be on Nguyen Quang Hai -- the 2018 MVP -- as Vietnam look to defend their AFF crown, and understandably so. But since that triumph, another has emerged as increasingly influential player for coach Park Hang-seo.

For all Vietnam's defensive stability and invention in midfield, Nguyen Tien Linh -- standing at 1.83 metres -- offers a focal point in attack and a keen eye of goal, having already scored seven goals in Vietnam's ongoing World Cup qualifying campaign.

Chrerng Polroth (Cambodia)

Since making his international debut in 2015, Chrerng Polroth has slowly but surely established himself as Cambodia's midfield general and famously earned a loan move to Buriram United in 2019 albeit without ultimately playing a game for the Thai League 1 giants.

A tidy distributor in the middle of the park, Polroth also has the occasional long-range screamer in his arsenal and will be determined to help the Angkor Warriors pull of a few upsets as they aim to reach the knockout stage for the first time ever.

Safawi Rasid (Malaysia)

By his lofty standards, Safawi Rasid has been fairly quiet in 2021 despite being part of the Johor Darul Ta'zim side that made it eight consecutive Malaysia Super League titles in a row.

Nonetheless, the 24-year-old left-footed wizard has made it a habit throughout his career of turning on the style on the biggest stages, and Malaysia's upcoming opponents should underestimate him at their own peril.

Soukaphone Vongchiengkham (Laos)

At the age of 29, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham will remarkably be appearing in his fifth Suzuki Cup -- and it could have even been a 6th had Laos not failed to qualify in 2016.

Already his country's third-highest scorer of all time, while also laying claim to being their fourth most-capped player at present, Soukaphone offers genuine experience and X factor to a Laotian outfit that has been forced to turn to youth in recent times following a series of match fixing-related bans.

Evan Dimas (Indonesia)

As the tournament's perennial bridesmaids, having reached the final on five separate occasions without winning it, Indonesia will once again be hoping to end their title drought at the 2020 edition.

If they are to do just that, it will likely be because of a starring effort from midfielder Evan Dimas, who has seamlessly made the transition from talented prospect to influential campaigner since first featuring at the Suzuki Cup in 2014 as a 19-year-old.