Thais ready for Sven and battle in Bacolod

Thailand should face the first big test of their 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign when they face the Philippines in Bacolod on Wednesday.

The War Elephants strolled to a 7-0 win over Timor Leste on Matchday One before recovering from a sluggish start to beat Indonesia 4-2 on Saturday.

Their first away match comes against Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Azkals, who have also taken maximum points from their first two games.

A third consecutive victory would almost certainly seal Thailand’s place in the last four but they will probably have to improve upon a patchy performance against Indonesia to take the three points.

Here are five things to watch out for in Thailand’s clash in the Philippines.

  1. A stronger start

Head coach Milovan Rajevac admitted his team took their time to get started against the Garuda on Saturday, a possible hangover from the ridiculously straightforward win over Timor Leste.

The Thais were eventually punished by Zulfiandi’s stunning opening goal before reacting and getting the three points.

Such a lack of intensity and focus at the start of the game will have been noticed by the Azkals and Eriksson will surely be looking to gain the upper hand early on.

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Rajevac must ensure that his players are ready to resist an early Philippines onslaught and counter with their attacking strength.

Thailand have the better players but they need to show this from the start rather than waiting until they are in trouble before showing what they are made of.

  1. A midfield reshuffle

The formation that worked against the naïve Timor Leste defence did not have it so easy against a more disciplined Indonesia backline.

Thailand struggled to get behind their opponents in the first half and the inclusion of three attacking midfielders left a gap in the centre of the field.

Rajevac addressed this problem by withdrawing the ineffective Mongkol Tossakrai at half-time and introducing Pokklaw Anan in his place. The Bangkok United midfielder netted an excellent goal to cap a fine performance and will surely have given his head coach something to think about in a match in which they will need to be stronger in midfield and defence.

  1. A pitch battle

The surface at Panaad Stadium did not look ideal for the Azkals’ opening game at home to Singapore last week.

Regular Thai League players are familiar with playing in imperfect playing conditions given that the season goes through the wettest months of the year. However, they will have to adapt their game to a pitch that looks like it may not be well suited to Thailand’s preferred passing game.

The War Elephants should have the quality to overcome any issues on what is a level playing field. And Rajevac will have done his homework and should plan his approach accordingly.

  1. Younghusband’s flair play

The Azkals’ dangerman remains Phil Younghusband, the country’s all-time top scorer. Now 31, the former Chelsea youth will be aware that this could be his last shot at AFF Suzuki Cup glory, having helped his side reach the semifinals in three of the last four editions.

Younghusband will certainly want to go one better this year and a victory over the tournament favourites will certainly give his side belief that this could be their time.

Thailand will be aware that Younghusband is the man to watch in a hard-working Philippines side that is otherwise short on flair.

Stopping Younghusband may not mean stopping the Philippines but it would certainly go a long way to ensuring that Thailand return home with one or three points.

  1. Sven, Milovan and memories of 2010

Back in 2010, Rajevac and Eriksson were in charge of teams on the somewhat grander stage of the World Cup.

Rajevac was extremely unlucky not to reach the semi-finals with Ghana as Luis Suarez’s infamous handball and Asamoah Gyan’s penalty miss combined to let Uruguay through at their expense.

Eriksson was head coach of a strong Ivory Coast squad but was unfortunate to see his side go out at the group stage, losing just once in a group featuring Portugal and Brazil.

Eight years later, the two veterans meet in Southeast Asia, with both hoping to take a huge step towards the last four.

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Photo Credit: The Philippine Football Federation

In South Africa, Eriksson probably had the better players, while Rajevac benefited from a kinder draw. This time, Rajevac has the more talented squad but it will be interesting to see if the Swede, along with assistant Scott Coopeer, can set his players up to overcome the gap in quality and leave Thailand needing to beat Singapore on Sunday to secure a semi-final spot.

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