Thailand provide enduring moment of AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 with tribute to mourning Kawin

Thailand produced a dominant performance at Singapore's National Stadium on Wednesday to put one hand on the AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 trophy, claiming a 4-0 win over Indonesia in the first leg of the final.

There were superb strikes and wonderfully-worked team goals, all of which further strengthened the notion that the War Elephants will be unstoppable in their quest for a record-extending 6th AFF crown.

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And yet amidst the starring displays from the likes of Chanathip Songkrasin, Supachok Sarachat and Philip Roller, the highlight of the tie came in what would have ordinarily been an insignificant footnote.

When Thailand coach Alexandre Polking opted to bring on goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan in the 75th minute, with the match already won, it seemed merely a move to ensure every member of his squad got to take to the field.

Despite widely being regarded as one of Southeast Asia's best shot-stoppers, Kawin's lack of regular club action has seen him have to play third fiddle so far in the tournament behind Chatchai Budprom and Siwarak Tedsungnoen.

Oddly enough initially, the entire contingent of Thai substitutes rose to give him a standing ovation, which perhaps could have been explained by how much of a well-loved figure he is in the dressing room.

But earlier, Chanathip -- after scoring his second of the evening -- had made it a point to head straight for Kawin, who was warming up on the touchline, to celebrate with him before seemingly crying.

That simple substitution made by Polking with 15 minutes remaining took on a far more poignant tone after the final whistle.

"I brought Kawin on because his father passed away today, and I wanted to give him a happy moment," explained Polking, before breaking down into tears.

"I want to state this as the reason because I even had to think about it for a bit before deciding to bring him on. I don't want it to seem like I was being disrespectful to Indonesia."

Polking's revelation also explained why Kawin had previously left the team to head back to Thailand, with the official reason given being a family matter, before returning to join up with the squad.

It also highlighted the sacrifice Kawin has made for the Thai cause, even if he has not been the first choice in this edition of the Suzuki Cup.

On social media, while Indonesian fans were initially offended by what was deemed an insulting decision to replace the goalkeeper, messages of respect and sympathy soon replaced the initial uproar.

And even for the Indonesians, who are still looking for their first AFF title in 25 years having finished runners-up on five previous occasions, it might be difficult to begrudge the Thais the crown.

All tournament long, they have been the best team on the field and arguably the classiest off it, led by a coach in Polking who has always been respectful to the opposition but unafraid to state that going all the way is the target for the Thais.

They should go on to do just that in Saturday's second leg. And somehow, the enduring moment of this potential triumph could just be a simple substitution.