Alexander Polking produces another masterclass as Thailand see off Vietnam to claim record 7th AFF Championship crown

Thailand have claimed a record-extending 7th AFF Championship title after a 1-0 second-leg win over Vietnam on Monday secured a 3-2 aggregate triumph in the final. Pakawich Damrongkiattisak/Getty Images

Just over a year after Thailand lifted a 6th AFF Championship title at the coronavirus-delayed 2020 edition of Southeast Asia's premier international tournament, a record-extending 7th crown arrived on Monday.

Heading into the second leg of the final with the aggregate score tied at 2-2, the War Elephants got the job done with minimal fuss even if the scoreline did not suggest so -- beating Vietnam 1-0 at Thammasat Stadium to secure the triumph.

And for all the heroes the War Elephants had on the pitch, it was once again a masterclass by the man in the dugout -- Alexandre Polking -- that was paramount to their latest piece of silverware.

12 months earlier, Polking found himself at the helm of Thailand in far different circumstances.

Parachuted in following the dismissal of predecessor Akira Nishino and handed a short-term deal, the Brazilian-German tactician was effectively auditioning for the job on a permanent basis -- with the task of leading the Thais back to the summit of the region after they were usurped by Vietnam in 2018.

With limited time to show what he could do, Polking left no stone unturned as he assembled a star-studded outfit that brushed aside all that stood before them in a dominant campaign.

This time around, the situation was far different.

With his role as Thailand coach very much secured, and having secured a bigger assignment to build towards in qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, Polking came into this tournament with a different agenda.

Japan-based stars Chanathip Songkrasin, a three-time AFF Most Valuable Player, and Supachok Sarachat were both exempted from international duty, as were fellow stalwarts Thitiphan Puangchan, Narubadin Weerawatnodom and Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul.

Polking did not feel the need to call on the services of Supachai Jaided, the current joint-top scorer of the Thai League 1 at the halfway mark of the campaign, or fellow Buriram United gun Suphanat Mueanta.

Granted, the foundation of the current squad did boast seasoned campaigners.

Teerasil Dangda, the tournament's all-time top scorer, did notch six goals to claim a fifth top scorer award even if he missed the final completely, while multiple title winners Sarach Yooyen and Theerathon Bunmathan -- whose stunning second-leg effort against the Vietnamese proved to be the winner -- offered cool heads in the heart of midfield.

Still, there was no denying that the Thailand team that went on to win a 7th AFF crown was very much an experimental side.

None of the three goalkeepers at Polking's disposal have more than ten caps to their names. The likes of Peeradon Chamratsamee, Poramet Arjvirai and Sasalak Haiprakhon -- who all started both legs of the final -- have never previously been regarded as starting XI players.

There is every likelihood that Polking was also using the tournament to cast his eye on some potential candidates for the bigger stage to come that is the Asian Cup.

And yet, the War Elephants were still good enough to be crowned champions of Southeast Asia once more.

They dominated almost every match that they played. Even in the first leg of the final when it looked like Vietnam were in the ascendancy, they mustered a stirring revival in the second half to ultimately earn a draw that paved the way for Monday's decisive win.

The football they played was eye-catching and, at times, breathtaking. And while some of their players were able to prove that they could play a role for the future, there were also others like Theerathon who showed he could be equally influential in a new role.

For all of that, Polking deserves all the credit that will come his way in the coming days.

The situation heading into the tournament, and the circumstances which they emerged champions, might have been different from a year ago.

But it was once again a Polking masterclass that led Thailand to glory.