War Elephants must hit ground running to earn final opportunity

Thailand will need an improved performance against Malaysia in Bangkok on Wednesday as they attempt to advance to the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup final.

The War Elephants were outplayed for much of the semi-final, first leg in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday and only some poor finishing from the hosts enabled the Thais to escape with a 0-0 draw.

Milovan Rajevac’s side now need to defeat the Harimau Malaya at the Rajamangala Stadium to set up a likely meeting with Vietnam in the final.

Here are five things to look out for when Thailand host Malaysia on Wednesday.

  1. A strong start

Apart from the ruthless dismissal of Timor Leste on Matchday One, Thailand have started their other games in rather uncertain fashion. On Saturday, this saw Malaysia gain the upper hand early on and the War Elephants never really had a period of dominance over the 90 minutes.

It is vital that Thailand do not allow their opponents to take control of the game and dictate the pace as they did at the Bukit Jalil. Whatever game plan Rajevac is formulating, the need for a more aggressive start to the contest has to feature.

Thailand have looked to playing within themselves at times before stepping up a level when required. At this stage of the tournament, they need to exert their authority from the kickoff.

  1. Protect the full-backs

Rajevac has received some criticism for his pragmatic approach to games but for the past two matches, he has started with four attacking players. Adisak Kraisorn has played in front of winger Nurul Sriyankem, second striker Supachai Jaided and playmaker Sanrawat Dechmitr, which is hardly unadventurous.

Unfortunately, this formation has sometimes left the defence exposed with the attackers slow to get back. This was particularly evident down the left on Saturday as Mika Chunuonsee was regularly called upon to deal with Malaysia’s speedy forwards.

The two deep-lying midfielders Thitipan Puangchan and Tanaboon Kesarat cannot be expected to deal with every counter attack before the ball is fed out wide so Rajavec has to carefully consider striking the right balance between attack and defence, particularly in the wide areas.

As he did against Indonesia, Rajevac responded to the imbalance in the side by introducing Pokklaw Anan to beef up the midfield at half-time. This had the added benefit of freeing up Thitipan to do what he does best and get forward more.

  1. Home comfort for Thailand

 Thailand will be happy to be back on home soil, with recent away form in the tournament unimpressive. The goalless draw in Malaysia made it just one win from the last seven away fixtures in the knockout stages.

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However, the Thais have won the last six home AFF Cup matches on the trot, good enough to lift the trophy in 2014 and 2016, while finishing runners-up in 2012.

Making it seven in a row at the Rajamangala Stadium would be enough to seal a fourth consecutive final appearance.

  1. Adisak eyes record haul

Striker Adisak may have failed to find the net in Malaysia but he has struck eight times in Bangkok this year and two more would put him level with Noh Alam Shah’s tournament record.

The Singaporean striker bagged 10 goals in 2007, having netted seven in 90 minutes against Laos. Adisak fell just short of this one-game record when he scored six times against Timor Leste on Matchday One.

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The Muang Thong United striker may still be some way off the Singaporean’s all-time AFF Suzuki Cup record of 17 goals but he is in sight of another Noh Alam Shah landmark and he will not want to fall just short again.

  1. A Malaysian invasion?

We have been here before. Rumours circulated of a 4,000-strong Indonesian contingent filling the away section on Matchday Two and creating a lively atmosphere alongside the passionate home support.

Those rumours turned out to be fake news as there appeared to be barely a quarter of that projected total when the Garuda kicked off in Bangkok.

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Photo Credit: Football Association of Malaysia

There are now suggestions that Malaysia will fill their allocated area in a sellout crowd. Talk of Tony Fernandes laying on free Air Asia flights has added to the hype and there has also been a claim that there will be a 10,000-strong road convoy of Ultras travelling up from Thailand’s neighbour to the south.

Whatever the actual number that the Harimau Malaya bring to Bangkok, an excellent atmosphere is guaranteed, with the home side having sold out their allocation.

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