Thailand aiming to tame Lions to seal place in semi-finals

Thailand’s below-par performance in the 1-1 draw with the Philippines on Wednesday means at least a point is required from their 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup match at home to Singapore on Sunday.

A draw would seal a place in the semi-finals, while a victory would ensure they finish top of Group B. But Singapore travel to Bangkok buoyed by a 6-1 win over Timor Leste and needing a win to progress.

It sets the scene for a dramatic finale to the group, with the Azkals looking for a victory in Indonesia to reach the last four.

Here are five things to look out for in Thailand’s clash with Singapore at the Rajamangala Stadium.

  1. Siwarak or Chatchai?

In the absence of undisputed number one goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan, Buriram United’s Siwarak Tedsungnoen looked a safe pair of hands to deputise.

But Siwarak’s shaky performance against Indonesia prompted head coach Milovan Rajevac to replace him with Chatchai Budprom in Bacolod in midweek. Things were going fine until Chatchai’s slow reactions saw him fumble the opportunity to keep the ball out after Jovin Bedic’s shot had come back off the post.

A win in the Philippines would almost certainly have secured Thailand’s place in the last four, so Chatchai’s blunder effectively forced Sunday’s game to take on much more significance.

Rajevac has a big decision to make with his two goalkeepers looking short on confidence.

  1. Time for some supporting players

The creative burden has fallen very much on the shoulders of Sanrawat Dechmitr in the absence of playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin. Nurul Sriyankem chipped in with some important contributions on Matchday One, while Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri’s set pieces were key to the win over Indonesia.

However, Nurul was dropped for the match in the Philippines, while the creative talents of Sumanya Purisai, Sasalak Haiprakhon and Pakorn Prempak have largely been kept on the sidelines.

The laboured performance in the Philippines suggested that it might be time to freshen things up again to add impetus to an attack that offered little in Bacolod.

Nurul may well return and Sasalak could be a good option on the right, providing protection for Philip Roller, who was often exposed in midweek.

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Photo Credit: FA Thailand

Tanaboon Kesarat hobbled off injured for the second match in a row on Wednesday and may be rested so that is a change that could be enforced.

Despite the absence of their overseas players, Thailand arguably have the greatest squad depth and it might be time to tap into that depth to make sure of the right outcome.

  1. Battle of the 19-year-olds

Both Thailand and Singapore had 19-year-old attacking players on the scoresheet on Wednesday as Supachai Jaided opened the scoring for the War Elephants, while Ikhsan Fandi struck twice for the Lions, including a spectacular overhead kick.

Supachai’s breakthrough season at Buriram has seen a rapid promotion through the ranks, all the way to a starting position with the national side. He is raw talent, with no shortage of physical presence and an eye for goal.

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Photo Credit: FA Thailand

Ikhsan, meanwhile, is the son of Singapore legend and current head coach Fandi Ahmad. There is no question of his place in the team being down to family ties as he demonstrated with his double in midweek.

If selected, this will be the first game of crucial importance for these two at this level. Both are exciting prospects and they could provide further evidence of their potential by playing an important role.

  1. Make it a match not a battle

The tone of Thailand’s match in the Philippines was set from the moment Daisuke Sato got the better of Roller on the left wing and forced the Thai full-back to haul him down and earn a yellow card.

The confidence of the home side was lifted and the Thais were so rattled that over the next 15 minutes, Thitipan Puangchan and Tanaboon Kesarat were both booked for rash tackles, with the latter lucky to remain on the pitch.

This loss of discipline also saw the hosts take the upper hand in a match they were unlucky not to win.

The War Elephants need to keep their heads on Sunday as Singapore will sense weakness if Thailand become similarly flustered in the face of an aggressive and hard pressing opponent. 

  1. Remember the Asian Cup

Thai players who wish to be a part of the AFC Asian Cup squad in January know they need to prove themselves in this competition. If they can’t help their side see off Singapore at home, they are unlikely to help their country reach the later stages of the biggest international tournament in Asia.

With four overseas-based stars certain to take up four of the squad places for the UAE, at least four players from the current 23 will be cut and possibly more if they do not prove themselves worthy of a place.

Plenty of experienced internationals were left out of the AFF Suzuki Cup squad and Rajevac may well turn to them if he feels that some of the players he selected to help the Thais win a third Southeast Asian title in a row have let him down.

There should be plenty of motivation to dismiss Singapore in front of the home fans but if an extra incentive is needed, anything other than a win may well see several players from the current group staying at home in January.

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