The recently concluded AFF Under-16 Youth Championship which was organized under the auspices of the Laos Football Federation (LFF) was a resounding success at several levels.
And for the hosts, they have certainly set a certain standard when it comes to organizing a youth level competition.
With more than 30,000 fans in the final match at the National Stadium in Vientiane, the LFF can’t really complain with the cumulative gate receipts where the amount collected has in some measure alleviated the pain of losing the final to Thailand.
“It is football and the result could have gone either way. But it was good for Laos that we made the final as it showed that we are on the right path to developing our players and that we can be competitive against the other teams,” said Viphet Sihachakr, the president of the LFF.
“I believe that the attendance for the final match was more than for the final of the SEA Games which we hosted in 2009. And it also proved that we have a good package, people will come for the games even though it is for the age group.
“The thing is that we have learnt some lessons from organizing the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers last year which we have brought to the current tournament. Definitely, we are very satisfied with the decision to host this event.”
Other than the overwhelming attendance on the final match day, the National Stadium was also not sparse with spectators on days where the hosts team was not playing. On average, at least 5,000 fans came to watch the new young stars from the various ASEAN member countries strut their stuff.
In all, it is not only the venue and also the spectatorship which has made this year’s tournament a success but also the quality of matches being played was excellent with some spectacular goals being played.
With ten teams taking part – the most ever since the tournament’s inception in 2005 – a total of 24 matches were played and there were several outstanding players for sure.
And the list is not restricted to those teams which made the final or the semi-finals where teams like Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, who failed to make the cut, had several quality individuals.
Sasom Probprasert, who was the chief coach of Thailand, said that the AFF tournament has shown several weaknesses in his team and even though they won the title, still it has given him the impetus to improve his team further.
“This tournament is very good and it was tough for the players even though we won the crown,” said Sasom.
“As I said before, just like other teams here, we are preparing for the AFC qualifiers in September. And the teams here showed some weaknesses in our team.
“If we want to be competitive in the AFC qualifiers, we have to be a better, a lot better.”
Sasom’s sentiment was echoed by Singapore’s chief coach Dejan Gluscevic, who added: “I’m really surprised with the quality of teams taking part here.
“If not for this competition, we would not have known the standard of the other ASEAN teams. Furthermore, we will also be in the same group as some of the other teams in ASEAN for the AFC qualifiers, which means we now know what the things we need to improve on.”
With several sponsors like Pepsi, HAGL and Molten just to name a few, the tournament in Laos has proven that it can be commercially viable – thus changing the perception that youth tournaments would inevitably cost a deficit to the budget of the organizers.
Alongside the organizational subsidy given out by the AFF, ticket sales and also sponsorship opportunities, there is no reason why youth tournaments should burn a hole in the pocket of the Member Association concerned.
Perhaps, the next edition of the youth tournament could not only expand on the success of the LFF by having more sponsors but also look into merchandising possibility.
Ultimately however, ASEAN is a family which means that organizing tournaments is for the benefit of all member associations – beyond the concerned of dollars and cents.