With AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 boasting plenty of Messis, are any the real deal?

Teerasil breaks record as Thailand progress to semifinals (1:47)

Teerasil Dangda becomes the top scorer in the history of the AFF Suzuki Cup as Thailand win 2-1 vs. Philippines. (1:47)

The group stage of AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 is nearing its conclusion, with just one final round of matches to be played at the weekend before the semifinal lineup is settled.

Over the course of the past fortnight, there has been no shortage of starring displays in Southeast Asia's premier international tournament and, curiously enough, many of these teams boast their own version of Lionel Messi, whether it be from media hype or anointed by the fans.

- Indonesia hold Vietnam to set up final day drama at Suzuki Cup
- Singapore make AFF semis but then struggle to show they can contend
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(On a related note, there is strangely a dearth of 'insert-nationality-here' Cristiano Ronaldos despite their equal standing as the best of their generation, although that is a different conversation altogether.)

Here, we take a look at all ten Suzuki Cup competitors' version of the Argentine icon, and see if they match up to the real deal.


From the time he was given the nickname "Messi Jay", Chanathip Songkrasin has had a lot to live up to and he has looked the part even if he is playing at a lower level.

The pint-sized playmaker is one of the few Thailand internationals plying his trade abroad having been on the books of Japan's Consadole Sapporo since 2017.

A two-time Suzuki Cup winner and Most Valuable Player, Chanathip is undoubtedly one of the stars of Southeast Asian football. With his low centre of gravity, eye for a killer pass and the way the ball sticks to his feet, his playing style is certainly reminiscent of the former Barcelona star.

If we had to nitpick? His stronger foot is his right -- but that's about it.

Messi factor: 5/5. Chanathip is the closest thing Thailand -- and Southeast Asia as a whole -- could get to Messi.


No player is yet to be openly labelled "Myanmar's Messi" but there have been a few that have had to shoulder the same weight of an entire nation's expectations on their shoulders.

With his dimunitive stature and ability on the ball, Kyi Lin is arguably the closest in playing style but has failed to kick on in his career since breaking onto the scene at the 2012 Suzuki Cup.

Kyaw Ko Ko and Aung Thu are two others that have been among the main men for Myanmar in recent years, but are both more out-and-out strikers and not exactly in the mold of Messi.

Messi factor: 1.5/5. Kyi Lin came close but has not been a regular in the Myanmar national team setup for a few years now.


Like Myanmar, Singapore have perhaps been wise not to compare any of their players to the now seven-time Ballon d'Or winner given the obvious pressure that comes with the comparison.

Adam Swandi, who was part of the team that won a bronze medal at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games and then spent time in France with Metz, is probably the closest the Lions have come to having a much-hyped talent, while Faris Ramli has bits of Messi's game in him.

Both are part of the current Lions outfit that have sealed a place in the semis of the ongoing Suzuki Cup with a game to spare.

Messi factor: 2.5/5. While Singapore have perhaps been wise to avoid any comparison to such an iconic footballer, they do have a couple that give off the Messi vibe.


Although Philippines are not the most famous of countries in football, it is worth nothing that when Messi broke Barcelona's all-time scoring record back in 2014, he surpassed a 369-goal mark that was set by a Filipino-Spaniard -- Paulinho Alcantara.

While there has not been a "Philippine Messi" yet, that could easily change should the Azkals unearth a player of mixed-Argentine heritage, which is hardly out of the question given the cosmopolitan makeup of their squad.

Previously, they briefly had Paolo Bugas who played with a similar verve while the current team also has an exciting 18-year-old prospect Sandro Reyes who spent time at Barcelona's academy, so he could be a clear option given his links to the Catalan outfit.

Messi factor: 1/5. The Azkals have plenty of talent but just not quite someone who plays in the way that Messi does.


As Southeast Asia's youngest team, and nation for that matter, Timor-Leste do not usually find themselves in the limelight and are still on the receiving end of some one-sided defeats -- the most recent being a 7-0 loss to Philippines.

Although team success still seems far away, they have been producing some exciting youngsters with coach Fabio Magrao claiming Paulo Gali will be the best player in Asia in a few years, while 19-year-old Mouzinho has displayed raw ability at the tournament.

Messi factor: 2/5. In terms of sheer potential, Timor-Leste do actually boast a number of game changers who could develop even further.


Having been hailed as the future of his country's footballing hopes when he won his first cap in 2015, it is no real surprise that Nguyen Cong Phuong was anointed "the Vietnamese Messi".

Unfortunately for all involved, he has not quite reached the heights suggested by the nickname, although he did earn loan moves abroad to Japan and Belgium without barely making a ripple.

Cong Phuong remains a steady contributor for Vietnam but has been surpassed by Nguyen Quang Hai, a left-footed wizard with a penchant for scoring freekicks, which has since made the original comparison look very premature.

Messi factor: 3.5/5. Vietnam got the Cong Phuong comparison wrong, but Quang Hai has come onto the scene to rescue the situation.


After winning the Breakthrough Player award at the 2017 Toulon Tournament, Egy Maulana was instantly hyped as "Indonesia's Messi" and it was not completely an outlandish comparison.

He ticked plenty of boxes, including a low centre of gravity that made it almost impossible to bully him off the ball and a devastating set of skills, but Indonesians fans are still waiting on him to fully deliver on that promise.

Egy has spent the entirety of his professional career in Europe, now in Slovakia with Senica after three seasons on the books of Polish outfit Lechia Gdansk.

Still only 21, the Medan native is officially included in Indonesia's squad for the Suzuki Cup but is yet to make an appearance at the tournament due to his current club commitments.

Messi factor: 3/5. It is easy to see why Egy has been compared to Messi, although he still has plenty to prove. Indonesia also have another Europe-based young gun in Witan Sulaeman, who could potentially make an even bigger impact.


Funnily enough, "the Malaysian Messi" was a name given not by anyone from the country but by America's very own Major League Soccer -- which they used to describe Wan Kuzain when he was still playing for Sporting Kansas City.

Now 23, Kuzain -- who was born in Illinois to Malaysian parents -- is yet to represent Harimau Malaya.

Instead, it has been left to someone like Safawi Rasid, also left-footed and with an eye for the spectacular, to bring excitement to Malaysian fans, even if he has thus far avoided a direct comparison with Messi.

Messi factor: 3/5. Like Singapore, Malaysia have managed to avoid any unnecessary comparisons but, in Safawi, they do have a genuine star with a Messi-like quality.


Even before Chanathip arrived on the scene with Thailand, Southeast Asian minnows Laos already had a player who evoked images of Messi.

And if the Argentine was not already diminutive enough, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham -- at 1.56 metres -- actually stands 13 centimetres shorter.

Evidently given Laos' lowly standing in the region, Soukaphone's ability alone has not been enough to take them further. But purely in terms of playing style, the "Laotian Messi" moniker is not the worst out there.

Messi factor: 2.5/5. Soukaphone gets points for style. That is about it.


For the past eight years, Cambodian football has largely revolved around Chan Vathanaka. No surprises then that he has been named "the Cambodian Messi".

Although it is not the UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup that he is gracing, it is hard to fault Vathanaka's prolific scoring record especially in the Cambodian League.

Vathanaka also recently scored at the third consecutive Suzuki Cup, with his two goals against Laos helping Cambodia to a 3-0 win on Wednesday -- their first of the edition.

Messi factor: 4/5. A star player who at times has to singlehandedly inspire a team that struggles to achieve success on the international stage. Until Argentina's recent Copa America win earlier this year, Vathanaka's story was exactly the same as Messi's.