Thrilling first-leg draw between Vietnam and Thailand sets up epic 2022 AFF Championship decider

Nguyen Tien Linh fired Vietnam ahead after 24 minutes in the first leg of the 2022 AFF Championship final on Friday but they ultimately had to settle for a 2-2 draw with Thailand at My Dinh National Stadium. SPORTFIVE

It promised to be an epic clash between Southeast Asia's two most dominant forces over the past eight years.

Since 2014, no other side other than Thailand and Vietnam have tasted glory at Southeast Asia's premier international tournament.

And after 90 minutes of drama at My Dinh National Stadium on Friday evening, the first leg of the 2022 AFF Championship final certainly lived up expectation.

A thrilling 2-2 draw, which saw Vietnam take the lead but then have to come from behind to avoid defeat with an 88th-minute equaliser, not only leaves the tie evenly poised ahead of Monday's second leg, but also highlighted the undeniable talent on display from the two standout teams at the tournament.

In his swansong, having confirmed he will leave his job at Vietnam coach at the end of the tournament, Park Hang-seo could still sign off with a second AFF title to his name.

Or it could be Thailand boss Alexandre Polking, initially parachuted in as a short-term solution following the departure of former coach Akira Nishino ahead of the previous tournament, who celebrates back-to-back triumphs.

Either way, there is plenty to look forward to when the decider is decided come Monday.

For the criticism they have sometimes received for Park's perceived negative tendencies even though there is credit to be given for the defensively-resolute outfit they are, Vietnam certainly pack a punch in attack as well.

That was evident in the way they opened the scoring in the 24th minute when Nguyen Hoang Duc's glorious 40-yard diagonal ball to the right found Que Ngoc Hai, who proceeded to curl an inch-perfect cross for Nguyen Tien Linh to convert with an unstoppable diving header.

Perhaps uncharacteristically given what the conservative mindset that the Park regime has been based on, a lackadaisical approach at the back by Vietnam then allowed the Thais to turn the game on its head.

On both occasions, Poramet Arjvirai and Sarach Yooyen were required to come up with clinical finishes to beat opposition goalkeeper Dang Van Lam, but they only had a sighting at goal after inexplicably given a clear path towards the Vietnam goal.

But just when it looked like the War Elephants might be heading to the return encounter with a slender advantage, the Vietnamese mustered a response with two minutes remaining as Vu Van Thanh pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the area before sending a piledriver into the bottom corner.

Individual brilliance, well-worked team goals, defensive lapses that allow for end-to-end action, Vietnam and Thailand combined for a spectacle in the first half of the 2022 AFF Championship final -- and there is still 90 minutes, and potentially extra-time and penalties, to come.

It remains to be seen who will be lifting the trophy on Monday with the decider firmly in the balance.

Yet, it is almost certain that it will once again be a thrilling affair worthy of a championship decider.