Buriram hit six of the best to edge closer to yet another Thai League title

Buriram United finally pulled clear at the top of the Thai League (T1) as they thumped hapless Ratchaburi 6-0.

With second-placed Chiang Rai United dropping two points at home to Sukhothai, the champions opened up a three-point gap and few would bet against them staying on top.

Meanwhile, Bangkok United signaled their surrender with a limp display at Prachuap, while Port FC kept up their challenge with a win at Suphanburi.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 24.

  1. Buriram blitz sends out a message 

Ratchaburi’s erratic form makes it difficult to know what to expect from them but, without the injured Steeven Langil and the ineligible Javier Patiño and with Lossamy Karaboue curiously left on the bench, they were short of three of their key attacking weapons at Buriram on Saturday.

Buriram United took advantage by brushing their opponents aside with some devastating finishing. 17-year-old Suphanat Mueanta opened the scoring with a nicely cushioned volley before Andres Tunez converted a penalty.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

In the second-half, Rattakorn Maikami scored a rare goal with an excellent finish with the outside of the boot, though the best was yet to come as Suphanat fed the ball inside to his older brother Supachok Sarachat. Supachok lined up his shot and smashed the ball into the top corner from distance.

Narubadin Weerawatnodom’s thunderous effort from a narrow angle was the first of two added-time goals, with Nacer Barazite grabbing the other. It has been a long, stuttering journey to get Buriram into this position, but we are now surely going to see Bozidar Bandovic’s men secure a sixth T1 title in seven years.

  1. Bangkok United raise the white flag 

It was a season that began with such high hopes for Bangkok United as Nelson Bonilla, Tristan Do, Peerapat Notchaiya, Anon Amornledsak and Mike Havenaar looked set to be the final parts of a jigsaw that would turn the club from nearly men into champions.

None of these five players were in the starting lineup when the Bangkok Angels faced struggling Prachuap FC on Saturday. Do missed his seventh game of the season through injury, while Bonilla was unavailable for the sixth time. Notchaiya – who has failed to win back his place in the starting lineup after injury – was on the bench, alongside Anon.

Havenaar’s failure to adapt to the Thai climate and footballing style saw him cut from the squad mid-season, replaced by 33-year-old free agent Jaycee John, who has failed make an impact.

Poor on-field discipline has seen an eight-game suspension for creative midfielder Sanrawat Dechmitr and two recent red cards for Pokklaw Anan – one for dissent and one for a petulant kick.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Despite a massive drop-off in performance from Buriram, Bangkok United have failed miserably to take the best opportunity they may ever have of breaking the dominance of the Thunder Castle.

Saturday’s listless performance in the 1-0 defeat at Prachuap saw them slip nine points off top spot to finally confirm that they are no longer contenders for the title. The Killer Wasps showed more energy and appetite despite having played 120 minutes in the midweek League Cup victory over Chiang Rai United. Supot Jodjam’s first-half goal settled the match and the visitors rarely looked like leveling the score.

Bangkok United can still end the season on a high with an FA Cup victory but on the evidence of this performance, few would expect them to lift a much-coveted trophy.

  1. Port stay in touch at the top

Port FC’s resurgence under Choketawee Promrut continued as they ended Suphanburi’s seven-game unbeaten run with a 3-1 victory away from home.

Not only did they inflict a first defeat on the War Elephant in seven games, but they also scored as many in 90 minutes as the total other opponents had managed against the same side in that seven-match run.

Sumanya Purisai’s early injury gave Rolando Blackburn an opportunity from the bench and his acrobatic effort put Port in front. An own goal made it 2-0 before Miki Seroshtan pulled one back and ensured a nervous finish.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Nurul Sriyankem’s added-time goal sealed victory and the winger was ecstatic in his celebrations, having endured a difficult season due to injury and then seeing his path back into the starting XI blocked by Bordin Phala’s outstanding form.

Port stayed four points behind Buriram and, with the two clashing in Buriram on the penultimate match of the season, there is much to play for in the next four games to set up what could be a winner-takes-all match.

Suphanburi seek killer touch while rejuvenated Port target title again

Suphanburi aim to make it eight games without defeat when they host title challengers Port FC on Thai League (T1) Matchday 24.

The War Elephant remain in the relegation zone despite having racked up a seven-game unbeaten streak and they desperately need to start converting draws into wins if they are to stay in T1.

Nakhon Ratchasima face a huge test at Chonburi with head coach Milos Joksic under fire from fans, while Prachuap will hope that their midweek League Cup semifinal win boosts morale for their home clash with Bangkok United.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 24.

  1. Suphanburi need wins not draws 

Since Adebayo Gbadebo took over from struggling head coach Totchtawan Sripan, he has certainly got Suphanburi moving in the right direction again. The defence has conceded just three goals in seven T1 matches – a run that has included draws with Buriram United and Bangkok United.

At the other end of the pitch, however, just five goals have been scored by a blunt attack. Out-of-sorts Cleiton Silva and out-of-shape Guilherme Dellatorre cannot find the form to trouble opposing defences and grab the goals that would lift them to safety.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

This weekend does not look a good time to be facing Port FC who are buoyant after last Sunday’s stirring win over Muang Thong United. Choketawee Promrut’s side are dreaming of a title win again, having emerged from a slump that seemed set to kill off their hopes.

While Suphanburi’s strikers are struggling for goals, Port have been getting by without strikers, though Josimar will surely start after his all-action performance and clinching goal last week.

This match will either send Suphanburi deeper into relegation trouble or put another dent in Port’s title challenge. The momentum is very much with the away side and the War Elephant will have to find a cutting edge to earn the three points they need.

  1. Sharks lie in wait for under fire Milos

Nakhon Ratchasima’s season seems to be fizzling out to the extent that a relegation battle will be looming if the Swatcats lose this one. A single victory in nine T1 matches has seen them go from Top Five contenders to just four points above the relegation zone.

Such is the nature of this year’s compressed T1 table, a win here could take them as high as seventh, while they could slip back to 12th with a defeat. Head coach Milos Joksic has come under heavy criticism from fans for their recent form, with many calling for his head.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

The wisdom of making a change at this crucial stage of the season would certainly be questionable but a Chonburi victory on Saturday would see the campaign to oust him gather further momentum.

Joksic needs a victory to relieve the pressure but Chonburi will be equally keen to take three points as they target a finish in the Top Six.

  1. Prachuap look for a lift after cup boost 

Prachuap FC fans finally had something to cheer in midweek as their relegation threatened club reached the League Cup final after a shock win over holders Chiang Rai United. The Killer Wasps prevailed in a penalty shootout following a match that ended in a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes and a 3-3 tie after extra time.

Prachuap will now hope that the morale boost helps lift their T1 form. They have won just twice in a 17-match spell going back to the beginning of April.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Their opponents on Saturday – Bangkok United – are still clinging to their title hopes but, realistically, a run of seven wins in their last seven matches will be required and even that may not be enough with three clubs above them. They should have a decent chance of three points against a team that went through a 120-minute slog on Wednesday but the Prachuap pitch may not be best suited to their preferred style of football.

It has been a disappointing season for both clubs and they will be desperate to end it on a high. For Prachuap this means T1 survival, while for the Bangkok Angels, a failure to become Thai champions would only be offset by a second-place finish and an FA Cup triumph.

Nongbua’s Holland hopes to stun Buriram in League Cup clash

Nongbua Pitchaya head coach Matt Holland is aiming to put one over on his former employers when the T2 side meet Buriram United in the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday.

In two different spells over a total of three years at the Thai champions, Holland worked as Head of Youth Development, Football Development manager and Technical Director.

However, the 31-year-old Welshman is relishing the opportunity to face some of his old friends and wants to cause a huge upset.

“You want to play against your old clubs, it’s the beauty of football,” said Holland. “I’ve been lucky to have worked for a club like Buriram. Many people want to but never get the chance, so I’m grateful to Khun Newin, Khun Karuna and Khun Tadthep for that, not once, but twice in my career.

“There are still many people there who I know there and still communicate with, so to coach against a team that you know and who, budget-wise, are astronomically different to us, you have a chance to try and show what you can do, to try and boost the players that you’ve got and to put a good performance in.”

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Buriram United come into the game on the back of two tough matches at Trat, edging the FA Cup quarter-final on penalties last week before a late strike earned them a T1 victory at the weekend. The Thunder Castle still have much to do to defend their league title as they sit just a point above Chiang Rai United.

Nongbua, meanwhile, sit mid-table in T2 – safe from relegation but too far off the pace for a promotion bid. Holland has steadied the ship since arriving at the club when they were on a four-match losing streak, and his second game in charge was a 1-0 victory over Ratchaburi in the League Cup Round of 16.

Nongbua beat an under-strength Port FC in the First Round, but Holland feels that Buriram will be fully motivated despite continuing to challenge on three fronts in an extremely congested schedule.

“Of course, we know that Buriram are always fighting on all fronts and they’re always in the latter stages of the competition,” he said.

“I’m sure the whole of Thailand doesn’t expect anything but a Buriram United win, but in these games anything can happen if you prepare well, if you take care of the players properly and if you have the right information.

“Luckily, I have had the benefit of working there for three years, so my understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the squad are valuable. They play with a clear philosophy and identify which has remained similar since I first joined the club so hopefully this information will be helpful for us.”

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As he plots an upset, Holland insists that the has belief in the players he inherited after two changes of head coach since the start of the year.

“In Thailand, the majority of coaches – and I don’t mean this disrespectfully – consistently rely on foreign players to change the game,” said Holland. “They expect foreign players to come up with the goods all the time.

“I work in Thailand with a squad of 25, with just three foreign players. You have to believe in the Thai players. I believe we have strong players in each department. One of them is the captain, Wichitchai Chauyseenual – a terrific player on and off the ball as people may have seen from the last game. Wonderfully balanced, understands the game – how can you not trust players of this quality?”

Holland had not been with Nongbua for a long time when he was hit with the huge blow of losing one his biggest signings of the recent transfer window. Brazilian striker Maranhao had played for Port FC and Sukhothai and after a spell in South Korea didn’t work out, he found himself back in Thailand. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken leg on his debut for the club and is out for the season.

“He (Maranhao) was good in training and looked sharp even though he hadn’t played too much in Korea,” said Holland. “He integrated himself well and he started well. I believe he was going to get a goal against Rayong but was on the end of a horrific tackle which wasn’t even cautioned. It ends up with him breaking his leg, his season is finished and you can’t replace him.

“Sometimes, you just have to get on with it. You have to pick yourself up and deal with whatever the game throws at you but it was disappointing because he would have been a great player for us.”

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Photo credit: Nongbua Pitchaya

Bladimir Diaz is a recent addition from Colombia and, despite some challenges in helping him adapt to Thai football, Holland has high hopes for him.

“Diaz came in from a team called Atlas in El Salvador,” he said. “He was top scorer in the league and had spent a number of years there. The integration over the first 7-10 days was a bit complex. He had to learn a little bit how to play with the Thai players as the style was very different but he has done that now. He has made some fantastic relationships with some Thai players in the squad, albeit through Google translate.

“He’s a little bit unorthodox, but he understands the game, and he has a desire to win. I think it will be a matter of time before the shows his real quality in Thailand.”

Another key player is at the other end of the pitch, with Singapore international goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud the man between the sticks. Holland has been impressed with the professionalism of the second Singapore keeper he has worked with – having been assistant head coach at Army United with Hassan Sunny also at the club.

“He is a top goalkeeper,” said Holland. “He prepares himself very well, he looks after himself physically. He’s a top professional and knows what it takes to do the right things. He has made some big saves for us and is important to the team.

“He’s got great feet and is very comfortable on the ball. He’s also very experienced, having played for his national team 40 or 50 times.”

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Photo credit: Nongbua Pitchaya

The choice of venue for such a prestigious fixture has disappointed many. The 72ndAnniversary Stadium is a difficult place to get to at the best of times but in traffic-choked rush hour on a Wednesday evening, the outskirts of Bangkok are a long way from the northeast region that both sides hail from.

“I didn’t really think about the game being played in this region [the northeast], but one thing for sure is that it would have put fans in the stand if it was played around here – possibly at Korat, in a nice big stadium,” said Holland.

“I’m not overly sure if that will be the case in Bangkok. Buriram fans need to travel, our fans need to travel. There are obviously reasons why people that run the cups have decided to play in these stadiums. I personally felt that even in Bangkok, there were one or two better options, but I’m not fully aware of whether or not they were available.”

Whatever the venue, the odds are firmly stacked against Nongbua but if Holland’s inside knowledge of the opponents can be used to good effect, we could just have an upset on our hands.

Port brush aside Muang Thong challenge as title bid gets back on track

Port FC cruised to a 2-0 victory over Muang Thong United and quashed any hopes that the Kirins might pull off a miracle and win the Thai League (T1) title.

As the Top Five sides were dropping points with reckless abandon, Muang Thong’s 22 points from eight games had taken them from the relegation zone to within touching distance of the top.

However, this defeat kills off their unlikely challenge, while Samut Prakan City’s loss at home to Chiang Rai United confirmed the end of their T1 hopes.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 23.

  1. Port put brakes on Muang Thong

Form coming into this match suggested that this could be a very tight game between two well-matched sides. In reality, it turned out to be a straightforward victory for Port even if it took until the 89th minute for Josimar’s clinching goal to give the match a scoreline that reflected the balance of play.

Port played with aggression and intensity, full of menace on the counter attack, while Muang Thong were surprisingly flat and lacking in creativity. The Kirins may have been knocking on the door of the Top Five before the match but they ended it 11 points off top spot, while Port FC stayed in touch with leaders Buriram.

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Photo credit: Port FC

It took an hour for Sumanya Purisai to make the breakthrough, but despite tactical changes from head coach Alexandre Gama, Muang Thong never built up a head of steam and repeatedly found Elias Dolah a formidable barrier in the heart of the Port defence.

The energy of Nitipong Selanon on the right flank kept the visitors on the back foot and there were also fine performances from Bodin Phala and Martin Steuble. With the managers of the Thailand and Philippines national sides looking on, they chose a good time to impress.

For Port fans, however, the main thing was to see their recent dominance over Muang Thong continue. Their T1 record over the past three years now reads W4 D1 L1 and this was their first home win over the Kirins in 10 years.

  1. Samut Prakan’s slump continues

Samut Prakan City’s fine season is in danger of finishing ignominiously as they were once again taken apart at their own stadium on Sunday. Chiang Rai United recovered from a couple of disappointing results to defeat the Sea Fang 3-0 and remain just one point behind leaders Buriram United.

The decision to recall Ekanit Panya from his loan at Chiang Mai was again vindicated as he smashed home the opener before William Henrique added a second.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

The current malaise at Samut Prakan was summed up by Chiang Rai’s third. Kim Ho-yeong dallied in possession on the halfway line and was robbed by William. The Brazilian ran clear before finishing with a sublime chip over Kampol Pathomattakul.

Thet makes it four defeats in a row for Samut Prakan, conceding 15 goals in that time. They next face two away fixtures against clubs fighting for their lives, so things aren’t about to get any easier. Meanwhile, Chiang Rai’s title challenge stays on course with seven games remaining.

  1. Trat fall in mud bath farce

Playing during rainy season in Thailand poses a number of challenges. Sudden and intense storms can render a pitch unplayable in a matter of minutes and fans can see their plans disrupted by the resulting traffic chaos. It is, however, the duty of the league to ensure that matches at this level are played on surfaces that allow for a fair contest, with due consideration for the safety of the players.

On Sunday, the league again failed in this duty, just two weeks after Chonburi and Bangkok United played out a match on a waterlogged pitch. Trat’s match at home to Buriram United was delayed as the officials hoped for the rain to ease off and for the pitch to drain reduce surface water levels.

In many countries, referees use the bounce test as one way to determine if a game can go ahead. They would not have got much bounce on many areas of this pitch as the whistle blew for kickoff in this one.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

With six minutes remaining of a mud wrestle, Buriram’s quickly taken free kick created the chance for Nacer Barazite to once again make a decisive contribution from the bench and score the game’s only goal. Trat – still smarting from defeat to the same opponents in the FA Cup on Wednesday – complained bitterly that the free kick had been allowed to be taken in this manner, but they would have been better off staying focused on the ball.

The hosts’ temporary refusal to continue was an embarrassing throwback to the days when such throwing of toys from prams was more commonplace and Bireme Diouf’s manhandling of the referee surely merits a suspension.

The referee was not wrong to allow the goal, but he or whoever made the final decision was wrong to allow the game to be played in the first place.

Resurgent Muang Thong have bitter rivals Port FC in their sights

Muang Thong United can make a huge statement of intent when they visit Port FC on Thai League Matchday 23.

The Kirins have gone from the relegation zone to within two points of the Top Five in less than a month and victory in this fixture would suggest that a wildly unlikely title bid is on.

Leaders Buriram United will hope to maintain at least an eight-point gap between them and Muang Thong with a second match at Trat in four days, while Nakhon Ratchasima can take a significant step towards safety when they host struggling Suphanburi.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 23.

  1. Muang Thong aim to turn tables on Port 

Having lived in the shadow of their bitter rivals for several years, the last three seasons have allowed Port FC fans some welcome opportunities to celebrate at the Kirins’ expense.

They have been beaten just once by Muang Thong since returning to T1 in 2017 and have recorded three memorable T1 victories as well as one in the FA Cup this year.

However, their triumphs have all come at the SCG Stadium – once at an empty stadium and on other occasions without the backing of their own fans due to the ban on away supporters. The two matches at the PAT Stadium in that period have ended with one draw and one defeat.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

Having finished below Port in the T1 table in 2018, Muang Thong have an opportunity to reassert themselves with a victory and start to emerge from over 18 months in Port’s shadow.

Form is certainly on the Kirins’ side, having won seven of their last eight T1 games, while Port have won just two league matches in that period. The visitors also have the benefit of a week’s rest, with the hosts having played a cup tie in midweek.

But recent history has shown that the Port Lions tend to raise their game when up against their rivals and Wednesday’s FA Cup quarter-final win over Chiang Rai was a timely boost. An intriguing clash awaits.

  1. Trat plot revenge after cup defeat leaves a sour taste

Not for the first time, a beaten side was left to rue a sub-standard refereeing performance in a match against Buriram United. It is rare to hear fans, players or pundits reflect on a game and say that Buriram were hard-done by, but the opposite is true for many of their opponents.

Trat were 2-0 leading Buriram in their FA Cup quarter-final on Wednesday but the Thai champions managed to level the score before a red card for Trat turned the game in Buriram’s favour. A penalty shootout was still required to separare the sides but Baihakki Khaizan and Adefolarin Durosinmi were two of the players to question the quality and partiality of the referee after the match.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

On Twitter, Durosinmi wrote, “People telling you to get used to bad officiating in the country is mediocrity. Maybe they need to be educated again that the rules doesn’t change because you play against some certain teams”. Khaizan highlighted the selection process by writing “Quarter Final, no FIFA grade referee?”

Four days later, the two sides get to play again at the same location and Trat will be motivated by revenge, while Buriram will be desperate to stay at the top of T1. The hosts will hope for a more positive outcome than on Wednesday but the champions are reaching the business end of the season and they have a good record at getting the right results in these types of matches.

  1. Samut Prakan need to stop the rot

In the space of five games, Samut Prakan City have seen their impressive underdog title challenge blown away by four demoralising defeats – three of them on home soil. Those four losses have seen 15 goals conceded as a previously solid team unit has crumbled.

The injury absences of inspirational skipper Peeradol Chamratsamee and goalkeeper Patiwat Khammai have clearly had an impact, though Peeradol may be back for this one.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

Chiang Rai United visit on Sunday and will pose their usual threat, though it seems a long time since the thrill of destroying champions Buriram United just over a week ago. Last weekend’s fortuitous draw at home to Ratchaburi was followed by a midweek FA Cup defeat at Port FC, so they are also in desperate need of a lift.

The Beetles remain just a point off the top of T1 so victory will keep them in firm contention. Defeat for Samut Prakan could see them fighting to stay in the Top Six, instead of battling to be champions.

  1. Swatcats hoping to keep Suphanburi at a distance 

The classic relegation six-pointer takes place in Nakhon Ratchasima as the Swatcats have the opportunity to put nine points between themselves and Suphanburi, while the War Elephant can move to within three points of their opponents with a game in hand.

Despite a six-game unbeaten run built on a solid defence, Suphanburi need to turn draws into wins if they are to extend their stay in T1. They may have conceded just twice in that six-match sequence but they have scored just four times. They will be missing the suspended Alvaro Silva, who has done so much to shore up the defence since joining in mid-season.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

There have been more goals in games involving Nakhon Ratchasima but they have struggled for consistency and depend strongly on their talented front three for inspiration.

This is a huge opportunity for both sides to make a decisive move, but given recent form, a low scoring or goalless draw would not be a huge surprise.

Buriram and Muang Thong benefit as Chiang Rai slip up

Chiang Rai United failed to make the most of a big opportunity as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Ratchaburi on Thai League (T1) Matchday 22.

Just four days earlier at the same venue, the Beetles had stunned champions Buriram United by thrashing them 4-0. But they failed to hit the same heights, and failed to hold onto top spot in the league.

Muang Thong United continued their winning streak and Buriram leapfrogged Chiang Rai at the top, while Bangkok United fell further behind.

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday 22.

  1. Bill’s late strike saves lacklustre Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai United’s 4-0 win over Buriram United on Wednesday was one of the most stunning results of recent years. Not only were the champions humiliated, but Chiang Rai went top of T1 and appeared to have given themselves a realistic chance of winning the title.

However, just four days later, Ratchaburi proved a tougher nut to crack and only an injury-time strike earned them a fortuitous point, the visitors having taken the lead through Lossemy Karaboue.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Chiang Rai’s title challenge was always unlikely but with a solid team unit, it had started to look increasingly realistic. But they fluffed their lines somewhat as their time as league leaders ended after just four days.

Karaboue has been outstanding since his arrival in mid-season and his strike looked to have secured three points for the Dragons until Bill smashed in the equaliser deep into added time. Chiang Rai remain just a point off the top but this match was a quick lesson about the pressures of leading from the front.

  1. Heberty double keeps Muang Thong moving in right direction

Muang Thong United’s seventh T1 win in eight games continued their incredible revival and took them just two points behind slumping Samut Prakan City and Bangkok United as they close in on the Top Five.

Heberty Fernandes once again came up with the goods, netting for the fifth time in three games to keep alive hopes of the most amazing title triumph in T1 history.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

With every victory, the Kirins fantasy edges closer to a possibility and they can move within a point of bitter rivals Port FC with a victory at the PAT Stadium next weekend.

Head coach Alexandre Gama has revitalised players like Charyl Chappuis and Heberty, while showing that he is not scared to drop established names like Teerasil Dangda, Sarach Yooyen and Adisorn Promrak.

Muang Thong have taken 22 points from the last eight games. Another 22 from the next eight could see them crowned T1 champions.

  1. Suphanat makes crucial contribution at just seventeen

While some of Buriram United’s established stars were rested, Suphanat Mueanta put down another marker in his breakthrough season as he scored the winning goal at PTT Rayong.

The striker turned 17 this week and marked the milestone with his sixth T1 goal of the year to move his club back to the top of the T1 table. Nacer Barazite and Rasmus Jonsson were brought in during the transfer window to provide the goals that would push the Thunder Castle to a third consecutive title.

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However, it is the Thai prodigy who is making the biggest difference as the season enters the final stages. With Teerasil Dangda looking increasingly as if his powers are on the wane, Thailand are desperate for a quality striker. Given his youth, it is too early to say if Suphanat will be a worthy successor, but all the signs point to a player that has a big future in the game.

  1. Pokklaw sees red again and Bangkok United pay the price

It had been a slow-burner of a match, with Bangkok United the dominant side at Suphanburi, as the hosts’ defence held firm. However, when Vander Luis’ cross evaded everyone and landed in the net, it gave the visitors a deserved lead and a lifeline in their fading bid to stay in the title race.

Just three minutes later, Pokklaw Anan kicked out at Alvaro Silva in retaliation and his recklessness was punished with a red card.  It had been a solid and professional performance from Bangkok United until that point but this handed the hosts a route back into the game and Kim Sung-hwan’s equaliser extended the War Elephant’s unbeaten run to six games.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

United’s under pressure head coach Mano Polking had been given the vote of confidence this week and the response had been good until Pokklaw’s red mist undid all of the good work and let the club down badly. The Bangkok Angels are surely now also-rans in the title race.

As is depressingly familiar, the refereeing left much to be desired and Bangkok United can justifiably point to some decisions that went against them again, particularly when Vander should have been awarded a penalty before Chutipol Thongtae escaped a red card for a wild challenge on the same player. However, the red card that probably cost them two points was an unnecessary act of self-harm.

Chiang Rai United hoping to make the most of their turn at top of T1 table

Chiang Rai United have the perfect opportunity to maintain their position as Thai League (T1) leaders when they host Ratchaburi on Matchday 22.

The Beetles went top of the table in spectacular style by beating champions Buriram United 4-0 on Wednesday and now have their fate in their own hands.

Muang Thong United can continue their surge up the table if the beat Nakhon Ratchasima at home, while Suphanburi will hope to provide further torment for struggling Bangkok United.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 22.

  1. Chiang Rai’s big chance 

When millions of baht were invested in Chiang Rai United’s squad in 2017, it seemed a gamble designed to win the T1 title in that year.

They reached two cup finals – winning one – but a fourth-place T1 finish was not what the owners had in mind. Assets were sold off, though there was still enough in the coffers for big-name signing Cleiton Silva.

Chiang Rai managed to lift the two domestic cups in 2018 but finished one place lower in the league with five points fewer than 2017, while Cleiton flopped and was loaned to Suphanburi halfway through the season. When head coach Alexandre Gama left at the end of the 2018 season, things looked ominous, especially when his replacement Jose Borges left before the 2019 domestic season had even begun.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Chiang Rai haven’t performed exceptionally well this year but they have kept pace as the title favourites have fallen well short of expectations. The Beetles will never have a better chance, and Ratchaburi’s visit on Saturday will give an indication of how they handle the pressure of leading from the front.

The recall from loan of 19-year-old playmaker Ekanit Panya has given Chiang Rai an extra dimension and he may provide the flair required to win tight matches in the run-in.

Ratchaburi should be confident after turning around a 2-0 deficit to beat Samut Prakan City on Wednesday but if Chiang Rai really want to lift this title, victories in matches like this are absolutely vital.

  1. Muang Thong aim to close in on rivals Port FC

While the top clubs have recklessly thrown away points week after week, Muang Thong United have surged up the table by taking 19 points from the last seven matches and now sit just six points behind third-placed Port FC, who they meet next week.

If the Kirins can see off the challenge of Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday, they will go into next week’s showdown with realistic hopes of a Top-Three finish – an unthinkable outcome after a defeat at Chonburi left them in the bottom three six weeks ago.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

The arrival of Alexandre Gama has demonstrated the impact a good coach can have and he has found a way to get Muang Thong’s underperforming squad winning again. Given the implausible twists and turns of a dramatic season, if the Kirins can win every game between now and the end of the season they could yet be the unlikeliest ever T1 champions.

Port FC are back in the title reckoning after a wretched run of form and will hope to keep that up with a win at free falling Prachuap FC. But a defeat could see them reeled in by their bitter rivals when they two sides clash at the PAT Stadium next weekend.

  1. Suphanburi aim to pile on the misery for Bangkok United 

Bangkok United have had a terrible time of late. Just one win in six T1 matches has seen them slip to fifth place and they also exited the League Cup in agonizing fashion last week.

After blowing two points at home to Nakhon Ratchasima last weekend, a midweek defeat at Chonburi has surely spelled the end of an anticipated title challenge that has failed to take off despite the failings of those around them.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

A visit to Suphanburi is not the fixture they need at this time, with the War Elephant fighting for their lives and unbeaten in five – conceding just one goal in that run as new signings Alvaro Silva and Miki Seroshtan have tightened up the defence. Bangkok United head coach Mano Polking has a huge job on his hands as he tries to lift a side whose morale is at rock bottom.

Suphanburi have hit form at the crucial time, while their opponents have chosen the worst possible moment to hit a slump.

  1. Last year’s heroes on the brink 

When Prachuap FC won four their first six matches of the 2019 season, it looked like business as usual for the club that had surprised everyone by finishing 6th in 2018, following promotion from T2.

However, the Killer Wasps have gone into a tailspin by winning just two of the 15 matches since. They are now in the relegation zone and will remain there if they can’t quickly turn things around.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Their signings in the transfer window have yet to make an impact and attackers Jean-Philippe Mendy and Maurinho were kept out of the starting lineup by Siroch Chatthong and Supot Jodjam in Wednesday’s defeat at Nakhon Ratchasima.

Port FC visit on Sunday, having revived hopes of winning the title with two narrow wins since Choketawee Promrut took over as head coach. The visitors have no margin for error as they fight to stay in touch at the top, and the hosts could slip into serious trouble with another loss.

 

Suphanat’s brace punishes Samut Prakan as Buriram pull clear

Samut Prakan City’s Sarawut Kanlayabandit hit the self-destruct button as his red card helped Buriram United to a 4-1 victory on Thai League (T1) Matchday 20.

The surprise title contenders were 1-0 down but still well in the game when a moment of madness from Sarawut gave Buriram the edge and allowed them to pull three points ahead of their opponents.

Elsewhere, Bangkok United dropped two vital points, while Muang Thong United continued their recovery and Port FC finally won again.

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday 20.

  1. Sarawut sees red and Buriram go clear

Samut Prakan City had started their match at home to Buriram on the front foot as they looked determined to make the most of their opportunity to become T1 leaders going into the final third of the season.

Even when 16-year-old Suphanat Mueanta opened the scoring against the run of play, the underdogs were not discouraged and continued to take the game to the champions.

However, the complexion of the game changed completely in the 39th minute. After Sarawut’s challenge forced Nacer Barazite to the floor, the defender inexplicably stamped on Barazite’s knee, prompting the referee to give a straight red.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

There were predictable protests but replays were damning and, on the club’s biggest game yet in front of a sellout crowd, Sarawut had effectively handed the game to the opposition.

Suphanat soon added a second and, while Ibson Melo’s goal early in the second half came as the hosts rallied impressively, goals from Supachok Sarachat and Barazite finished things off.

Samut Prakan remain just three points off the top of the table but they will be disappointed that they didn’t make more of this opportunity with 11 men on the field.

  1. Mano’s gamble backfires as Swatcats take point

With Tristan Do and Peerapat Notchaiya injured and Pokklaw Anan and Mika Chunuonsee suspended, it was a brave move from Bangkok United head coach Mano Polking to rest four more regular starters following the 120-minute League Cup battle against Buriram United last Wednesday.

It showed faith in the depth of the squad with a tough run of matches to come but, having fallen five points behind Buriram United, a victory was absolutely imperative when they hosted struggling Nakhon Ratchasima on Sunday.

Even considering the risk of starting with a weakened lineup, there was no legislating for the misdirected header that gifted Henri Doumbia the opening goal before naive defending from Puttinun Wannasri gave the Swatcats a penalty that Doumbia converted to make it 2-0.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

Vander Luis and Nelson Bonilla had both come off the bench by the time the second goal had gone in, but it wasn’t until the 81st minute that Chananan Pombuppha pulled a goal back. Just three minutes later, Bonilla made it 2-2, setting up a barnstorming finish.

A winner for the home side seemed almost inevitable as the game entered seven minutes of added time but a combination of determined defending and inspired goalkeeping from Samuel Cunningham ensured that both sides took a point.

Bangkok United have now won just one of the last five and a season that promised so much seems increasingly destined to end in disappointment.

  1. Muang Thong close in on Top Six

Since Alexandre Gama’s losing debut as Muang Thong United head coach, he has taken 16 points from six games to move his side from relegation threatened to Top Five and maybe even Top Three contenders.

While the current Top Five have been unable to string together a strong run of results, Muang Thong have made their move up the table with a string of efficient but unspectacular victories.

On Saturday, they overcame Ratchaburi 2-1 in a fractious affair that saw the visitors’ star man Steeven Langil sent off before the hour mark. The referee had his hands full as the tedious spectacle of bad player behaviour was on show once again.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

In the end, Muang Thong could look back on a job well done and the difference Gama has made has been significant. He has given Charyl Chappuis a regular start in midfield and has been rewarded with a string of impressive performances that may put the Swiss Thai in line for a recall to the national side.

Gama has also selected players based on form rather than reputation and this saw experienced internationals Teerasil Dangda, Sarach Yooyen, Adisak Kraisorn and Adisorn Promrak start Saturday’s match on the bench, while youngsters Patchrapol Intanee and Saringkan Promsupa started alongside the unsung Wattana Playnum and Sanukran Thinjom.

Now that the players know they cannot take their team in the lineup for granted, this Muang Thong side look like finishing the season strongly and setting themselves up for a much better 2020.

  1. Dolah puts Port back on track

It was hardly the resounding return to form that new head coach Choketawee Promrut might have hoped for but the result was always the most important thing. Elias Dolah ensured that Port FC won a T1 match for the first time in two months as his second-half header was enough to see off Sukhothai.

It is too early to talk of a renewed title bid but it was extremely important for Choketawee to make a winning start following the lacklustre form towards the end of Jadet Meelarp’s reign.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Port remain fifth in T1, five points off top spot, so there is still plenty to play for as the season approaches the final stretch. There are a couple of trips to the seaside ahead with matches at Trat and Prachuap before what promises to be a crunch match at home to rivals Muang Thong United on August 11th.

Samut Prakan aim to prove they have what it takes as Buriram come calling

Samut Prakan City face the ultimate test of their title credentials when they host champions Buriram United on Thai League (T1) Matchday 20.

The two clubs are in joint top spot – something no one could have predicted as we edge towards the final third of the season.

New head coach Choketawee Promrut will aim to get Port FC moving back in the right direction when they welcome Sukhothai to the PAT Stadium and there will be an interesting Lanna derby between two sides that have uncomfortably close links.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 20.

  1. Samut Prakan’s chance to shine

When Samut Prakan City suffered a 3-0 loss at home to PTT Rayong two weeks ago, it felt like it may be the beginning of the end of their unlikely title challenge. No one had expected the newly formed club to perform at the same level as the top T1 side’s for so long and it wasn’t unreasonable to anticipate a dip in form.

But they bounced straight back with a 2-1 victory at Sukhothai, proving to the doubters that they will not be shaken off that easily. Now, they face another huge test of character when Buriram visit.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

The champions have been lacklustre all year and have only rarely shown the intensity that is usually associated with the team that has dominated Thai football for the best part of a decade. When they went to Bangkok and put then-leaders Port FC in their place with a dominant performance six weeks ago, it felt like a turning point.

However, Buriram soon slipped back into mediocrity, with only the shared mediocrity of their immediate challengers keeping them top. On Saturday, they again have the opportunity to swat aside an upstart. They will have been lifted by the midweek League Cup victory at Bangkok United, though such a grueling 120-minute tie will also have caused fatigue.

Samut Prakan have generally been a tight unit all year and the home defeat to an in-form PTT Rayong looks the exception rather than a sign of things to come. It’s a tough one to call and whatever the result, both sides will remain in title contention after the final whistle.

  1. Decisions, decisions ahead of Lanna derby.

Do you try and save a relegation-threatened side or try and keep a club’s T1 title bid alive? These are the questions facing the club directors at Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai United, ahead of the season’s second northern derby.

The two clubs already enjoyed a close relationship before Chiang Mai’s recent move to share a stadium when theirs closed for renovations. Now, with many Chiang Rai players on loan at the Lanna Tigers, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other apart from their shirt colours and their positions in the table.

A sign of priorities was perhaps seen when Chiang Rai recalled Ekanit Panya from his loan spell, depriving Chiang Mai of one of their top players. Ekanit went on to score the winning goal in his club’s midweek League Cup victory at BG Pathum United.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Chiang Mai sit joint bottom, while Chiang Rai are just two points off the top spot and this game will go a long way to determining the fates of both clubs. A defeat for Chiang Mai could see them slip as much as six points from safety, while defeat for Chiang Rai may result in them dropping five points off the T1 leaders.

The presumed unavailability of the players Chiang Mai have borrowed from the Beetles automatically weakens them, so a home win seems the more likely outcome. However, do the clubs’ sponsors want to see both these clubs in the top division next season?

  1. Can Choketawee turn it around for Port?

After Port FC’s fading title hopes were dealt yet another blow with defeat at PTT Rayong last weekend, time was called on Jadet Meelarp’s reign as head coach. Form over the past two months has been that of a side headed for relegation but Port remain just five points behind leaders Buriram United.

Jadet’s successor Choketawee Promrut now has the opportunity to start afresh and make a renewed push for the T1 title, starting with a home match against struggling Sukhothai on Sunday.

The new man in charge is not an inspiring appointment given his lack of success at club level. His most notable achievement as a coach is winning SEA Games gold for Thailand U23s in 2015, but he has failed to impress anywhere since.

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Photo credit: Port FC

He was recently assistant to Thailand’s interim head coach Sirisak Yodyardthai with the Thai national side, but things didn’t end well after poor performances at the Kings Cup in May.

At 44 years old, this is a huge opportunity for Choketawee as he takes charge of one of T1’s most talented squads. If he gets things right, he may well be at the start of a very rewarding career. If not, he might just join the well-established Thai coach merry-go-round. This may ensure he is rarely out of work, but also that he achieves little of note.

The first assignment is to inflict another damaging defeat on Sukhothai but the Fire Bats are unlikely to make it easy as they battle for survival.

From Barcelona to Bangkok: Thailand youth coach Salva Valero targets U17 World Cup

From the footballing hotbed of Barcelona to steamy Bangkok, Salva Valero is aiming for the world stage as he attempts to lead Thailand to the 2021 FIFA U17 World Cup.

The latest step in that journey begins in Chonburi on July 28th as his current side compete in the AFF U15 Championship.

Their Group B campaign kicks off against Laos and they also face Brunei, Cambodia, Australia and Malaysia as they bid to reach the final stages.

Valero is well aware of the high expectations placed on the hosts but is at pains to stress that they are building towards bigger things that this particular regional competition.

“Of course, we know that in Thailand, everyone expects us to be the champions,” said Valero. “But we have to think more of the long-term process than the short-term. Our target is going to the U17 World Cup and to go to the AFC U16 Championship and be in the Top Four because the AFC U16 tournament is the bridge to the World Cup.

“That is our main focus and we have to prepare for that. If we only think about winning this tournament, we are incorrect. The point of this tournament is to prepare for the AFC qualifiers in September and of course the final round of the AFC next year.

“We are preparing the team and thinking more of the process than the final result. This process is training well, playing the way we want to play and that will make it easier to reach our targets.”

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Valero is one of many modern coaches who travel from one side of the world to the other on their professional journey.

As part of the Ekkono group, he joined the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) two years ago as the Spanish coaching team was entrusted with the development of younger age groups.

However, he soon found out that there could be knee-jerk reactions rather than long-term strategy in his new working environment.

“Ekkono arrived in April 2017 in Thailand,” said Valero. “Initially, we were going to be responsible for the age groups from U21 and below. We worked for six months like that but after December, the U21 side lost against Myanmar and Vietnam in a tournament in Vietnam and that caused a dramatic reaction, so the FAT changed our duties to focus only on age groups below U16.

“At that moment, we started building up the generation 2004, which is the one that will play in the next AFF tournament – the one I’m in charge of. The target is to prepare a team that will go to the U17 World Cup.

“The first step is the AFC qualifiers in September and we are now preparing for the AFF tournament at the end of this month in Chonburi.”

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Valero is just 26 years old but has amassed over a decade of experience in coaching, starting out in his home city of Barcelona at the age of 15.

“I coached in some of the best academies on Barcelona for eight years before coming to Thailand,’ he said. “I coached in the top U16 league with different teams, including Cornella and Gava, playing against Barcelona and Espanyol in the Catalonia top division for U16s.

“I started to be a coach when I was 15 because at that time I realized that as a football player, it would be difficult to reach the top level. I was playing but I wasn’t at the top level in my generation so I decided to focus on becoming a coach.”

Not surprisingly, Valero’s early years saw him influenced by the team that play at the Nou Camp stadium, but he also developed an admiration for coaches who plied their trade abroad and at home.

“I went to Barcelona’s stadium from the age of three with my father and I started to support Barcelona at that time,” said Valero.

“Apart from Barcelona’s influence, when I was a teenager, Mourinho started to manage Chelsea and then went to Inter. I liked his personality and especially the way he controlled his teams. He was a big influence for me in how he managed.

“For example, when Inter played against Barcelona in the 2010 AFC Champions League semi-final, he had Samuel Eto’o play at left-back and it worked. The way he made his team fight for each other and the way he created team spirit impressed me a lot. I liked Mourinho not so much from the tactical side but from the way he developed team spirit.

“Nowadays, Diego Simeone has the same idea of creating a strong group at Atletico Madrid. I like the kind of coaches who can create this environment in the team, where even the most talented players are fighting for the team and are sacrificing their own egos.

“In terms of football, my main influence is Barcelona, but in terms of managing and how to create team spirit, I like Mourinho and Simeone.”

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It has long been observed that Thailand’s young players are blessed with plenty of skills but often fail to fulfil their potential as they develop into adult professionals. Valero believes that the problems lie not only off the pitch, but also in the lack of intensity in training and in games.

“In Thailand, on the technical side, we have good players,” he said. “If you compare us to the top academies in Barcelona where I coached, we could be better than some of the teams technically, but we lack organisation.

“Off the field, there is a lack of attention to lifestyle and professionalism. We are trying to educate our players about how to behave as football players, e.g. how to rest, how to eat. This is a big issue with Thai players, not only at youth level, but also at the professional level.

“To reach the standard of European countries is not about the technical side, but the lifestyle and the way you live football, the way you compete.

“When I watch the youth leagues and see the training at some academies, I think they lack intensity and competitiveness. In general, we lack that. We hope that with this generation we can change that but in Thailand it is a big issue.

“Coaching this generation from the age of 13, we have done the scouting and some training camps. Now they are 15, so we have worked them for two years, educating them on their behaviour on and off the pitch.”

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Valero remains hopeful that the work done over the last two years can help this generation to adopt the right mentality as they seek to make a living from the game. He is hopeful that fans will turn out in numbers to back the team in Chonburi and thinks they could be rewarded with a style that might not be unfamiliar to followers of the English Premier League.

“Since we started with this generation, we realized that we have very talented midfielders. For sure, we will have a lot of possession,” said Valero.

“We have the identify of being a high pressing team. We will be focused on playing with the ball, trying to build up and switch to find an advantage, and also to do some counter pressing.

“We will be very intense when we lose the ball to react as fast as possible to recover the ball and continue attacking. That will be our aim – between Man City and Liverpool, we want play like that.”