Thailand’s attempt to make an impact at the AFC Asian Cup kicks off with a match against India on January 6th.
Here is a look at the midfielders and strikers who will try and help the War Elephants emerge from Group A and progress to the last 16 and beyond.
Photo Credit: @Changsuek
Once an outstanding prospect, the defensive midfielder has lost his way somewhat since his 2017 move from Muang Thong United to Chiang Rai United, a serious injury, then a move to Bangkok Glass and relegation.
The 25-year-old looked ill-at-ease in Rajevac’s 4-2-3-1 formation at the AFF Suzuki Cup and will have to improve significantly to have a successful tournament in the UAE.
A combative box-to-box midfielder who can also pick a pass and score goals. Thitipan works best when allowed to roam but alongside Tanaboon in a defensive position is not the best fit for him. He has arguably been Thailand’s best midfielder under Rajevac but his coach needs to ensure he gets the best from him.
Pokklaw is a solid option in the middle of the park and is comfortable in a holding position or pushing forward to support the attack. Pokklaw can also be a goal threat and he is arguably a better option than Tanaboon on current form.
A gifited playmaker who can split defences with his passing range. He was one of the few Thai players to enhance his reputation at the recent AFF Suzuki Cup, with some hard-working performances and several assists.
The challenge is for Rajevac to fit him and Chanathip Songkrasin into the same team. They are very different players but both will be expected to create.
Much is expected of the attacking midfielder after a stellar season with Consadole Sapporo in the J League. Chanathip can dribble at pace, provide killer passes and now score goals, having netted a career-high eight times in 2018.
He was sorely missed at the AFF Suzuki Cup and Thai fans will hope he can provide the inspiration that was lacking.
The wide man had a superb breakthrough year at Buriram United and put in some outstanding performances in his side’s run to the AFC Champions League Round of 16. He has yet to make a similar breakthrough at international level but with wingers Mongol Tossakrai and Nurul Sriyankem left out of the squad, Sasalak may have a role to play on the right-hand side.
The 2018 Thai League MVP was a revelation for his club Bangkok United last season, earning an international recall after several years out in the cold. His 12 league goals from midfield included some fine individual efforts and spectacular strikes.
Despite his excellent form, the 32 year-old barely featured in the AFF Suzuki Cup, one of the main criticisms directed at Rajevac. Sumanya’s sublime, Messiesque assist for Thitipan’s goal in the 1-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago in October showed just what he is capable of.
Photo Credit: @Changsuek
Teerasil Dangda (captain)
With no heir apparent, Teerasil continues to carry the goalscoring hopes of Thailand on his shoulders. Now 30 years old, he featured briefly in the War Elephants last Asian Cup appearance back in 2007.
Like Theerathon and Chanathip, he has just spent the year playing in Japan, though often came off the bench for Sanfrecce Hiroshima. He netted a modest seven league goals for the J League runners-up but should be better for the experience.
Injury robbed Adisak of much of the last two years of his career but, in Teerasil’s absence, he performed well in the AFF Suzuki Cup, netting eight times, albeit six of those were against hapless Timor Leste.
Adisak offers physical presence as well as an eye for goal and provides important back-up for Teerasil.
The 20-year-old Buriram United man is rarely played as an out-and-out striker but he has proved his goalscoring credentials for club and country. His three goals for the national side in the AFF Suzuki Cup suggested he has the temperament for the big occasion and if he does not start games, he can be expected to come off the bench when Thailand need some inspiration.
The ‘Thai Heskey’s’ international career seemed to be fading. A big move to Muang Thong United didn’t work out and the muscular forward fell out of favour with the national side. After being left out of the AFF Suzuki Cup, it was a surprise to see him recalled but Rajevac obviously feels that his physical presence may be required.
Siroch gave the Australian defence a real headache in a World Cup qualifier a couple of years ago so he has the ability to pose problems. However, he will not be the man Thailand look to for goals.
A surprise inclusion in the AFF Suzuki Cup squad, he is likely to be used only in the event of injuries to the other front men. Chananan’s career had stalled somewhat but he had a decent year with Suphanburi and rediscovered his scoring touch. Nevertheless, he is unlikely to see much game time.
The Serbian breezed through the first 18 months of his tenure by avoiding any damaging results and winning friendlies when expected to. This all changed as the Thais crashed out of the AFF Suzuki Cup in the semi-finals and many blamed Rajevac’s negative approach and lack of flexibility.
Rajevac does seem hampered by a safety-first approach at times and this is not a familiar strategy for many Thai players. He will have learned a lot from the AFF experience and must implement a system that gets the best from his squad.
He led Ghana to the World Cup quarter-final in 2010 and progress to the last eight here would represent a huge success.