AFF Championship final could be decided by duel between Thailand's master Teerasil Dangda and Vietnam's apprentice Nguyen Tien Linh

Already the AFF Championship's record scorer from 2020, Teerasil Dangda's haul of six goals for Thailand so far in the current edition has taken his all-time tally to 25. SPORTFIVE

For over a decade now, Teerasil Dangda has been the standout striker in Southeast Asian football.

With 61 internationals goals and counting to his name since he won his first Thailand cap in 2007, Teerasil is now just ten away from matching the legendary Kiatisuk Senamuang's all-time record.

Although his move to Manchester City in 2007 was more of a publicity stunt when the Premier League giants were still under the ownership of Thai businessman Thaksin Shinawatra, he was eventually good enough to earn a move to LaLiga with Almeria in 2014 and also had overseas stints with J1 League outfits Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Shimizu S-Pulse.

Absolutely prolific on the domestic front, especially during his time with Muangthong United, Teerasil has made the AFF Championship -- the region's premier international tournament -- his domain.

A two-time champion and four-time top scorer at the competition, the 34-year-old was already the tournament's record scorer prior to the current edition -- where he has since added another six goals to take his overall tally to 25.

His clinical ways in front of goal have led Thailand to the final and in with a chance of a record-extending 7th AFF crown, with the tie currently evenly poised after a 2-2 first-leg draw with Vietnam ahead of Monday's decider at Thammasat Stadium.

Curiously omitted from last Friday's opening encounter against the Vietnamese, it now looks likely that the veteran spearhead was being rested by Thailand coach Alexandre Polking to ensure he is at peak condition for the second leg.

As has been the case in previous editions of the AFF Championship, and on any other occasion, the sheer presence of Teerasil would make the War Elephants overwhelming favourites.

But this time around, that is not necessarily the case.

For the masterful goal-scorer that Teerasil has been for Thailand over the past 14 years, Vietnam now have a fast-rising apprentice of their own -- one looming as the successor-in-waiting to become the next dominant striker of the region.

At the age of 25, Nguyen Tien Linh is by no means a raw and inexperienced prospect but he has had to wait to establish himself as a key member of the Vietnam side.

Although he was part of the team that won a second AFF crown for Vietnam in 2018, he had to play second fiddle to Nguyen Anh Duc back then -- and then had bide his time as contemporaries such as Nguyen Quang Hai, Nguyen Cong Phuong and Phan Van Duc took their turns in the spotlight.

As he continued to gain experience and mature with Becamex Binh Duong in V.League 1, Tien Linh became increasingly ready to be a main man in attack at international level.

After just two goals at the previous AFF Championship, his time has come at the 2022 edition of the tournament.

With six goals to his name, Tien Linh is currently tied with Teerasil at the top of the scoring charts.

Prior to Vu Van Thanh's brilliant equaliser against the Thais on Friday -- the wingback's second strike at the tournament -- Tien Linh had been Vietnam's sole man with multiple goals, highlighting just how reliant they now are on him to find the back of the net.

And it is not just in their current goal tallies that Tien Linh is matching Teerasil.

Powerfully built but still extremely mobile, both are the modern No. 9 prototype, required to be a sole focal point in attack but also capable of joining in the build-up.

Like Teerasil, Tien Linh has shown an uncanny ability to contend with multiple defenders to free up space for his teammates, but it is perhaps inside the penalty area where they are most similar.

Quite simply, both are clinical finishers.

If Tien Linh had been wearing a blue jersey rather than a red one on Friday, it would have been quite easy to think that it had instead been Teerasil that showed sheer hunger to get on the end of a right-wing delivery and send a bullet of a diving header past a hapless goalkeeper.

Or even earlier in the tournament, when each finish from Tien Linh that found the bottom corner was reminiscent of classic Teerasil.

Of course, there is a long way to go before Tien Linh can lay claim to having the same illustrious career that Teerasil has -- but he has all the necessary tools to have a proper go at achieving that.

Already with eight AFF goals to his name, it is hardly a stretch that Tien Linh could one day threaten Teerasil's all-time scoring record.

For now though, there is one thing that the master Teerasil is gunning for that is at immediate threat from the presence of apprentice Tien Linh.

Glory at the 2022 AFF Championship.