Thailand kick off their Asian Games campaign with a tie against Qatar on Tuesday, seeking redemption after a poor performance in January’s AFC U23 Championship.
With the likes of Chanathip Songkrasin, Kawin Thamsatchanan and Adisak Kraisorn in the side, the Thais finished an impressive fourth place in the 2014 edition.
Based on the toothless displays in China in January, a repeat of the run to the semi-finals appears unlikely. They have been drawn in a tough Group B alongside Uzbekistan and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, as well as Bangladesh.
Head coach Worawoot Srimaka will need to make the best of the talent he has available and here are three things to look out for in this year’s tournament.
- Best of Buriram
Thai champions Buriram United have been the dominant force in the domestic game for several years. But their success has not been at the expense of limiting opportunities for young players.
If they are good enough, they are old enough, and several young talents have broken through in recent years.
Attacking midfielder Supachok Sarachat and midfielder Rattanakorn Maikami will hope to put on a better show than they did in January. They have both gained valuable experience in Buriram’s run to the last 16 of the AFC Champions League this year but they have also suffered injuries that have kept them out for a chunk of the season.
19-year-old Supachai Jaided has become a first-team regular in 2018 and his physical presence could be an asset either in midfield or as a second striker.
It is important that the boys from Buriram are at their best if Thailand are to reach the later stages of the competition.
- Worachit’s time to shine
Worachit Kanitsribampen has been the standout youngster in a difficult season for Chonburi. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder has netted nine league goals in the Sharks’ campaign, making him the second top Thai goalscorer in T1.
His knack of getting into the right places at the right time could prove a valuable asset if he gets the right service.
Chonburi’s inconsistency this season has been infuriating for their fans but Worachit’s development has been one of the more encouraging signs.
If he can take his club form onto the international stage, he has the potential to be one of Thailand’s star performers.
- Chenrop has everything to prove
Chenrop Samphaodi has had a curious career trajectory. He has done enough to catch the attention of the national team manager and earned a move from Police Tero to Muang Thong United this year.
However, his best position remains up for debate as his poor scoring record does not suggest he has a future as an out-and-out striker.
It looked like Muang Thong had perhaps unlocked his goalscoring potential when his second-half hat-trick sealed a 3-2 victory over Bangkok United on Matchday One of the 2018 Thai League season.
But the 23-year-old has scored just once since, partly due to injury and partly because he sits behind others in the pecking order.
Chenrop has tended to save some of his best performances for the U23 side and this is a great opportunity to catch the eye of national team head coach Milovan Rajevac ahead of next year’s Asian Cup.
With the added responsibility of captaining the team, this tournament could help the striker prove there is more to his game than a battler who occasionally scores.
He needs to do much more to prove he will make a worthy successor to Teerasil Dangda in the longer term.