Chanathip leads way as Thailand victory keeps Asian Cup hopes alive

Thailand restored pride with a hard-fought and well deserved 1-0 win over Bahrain on Matchday Two of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup on Thursday.

Chanathip Songkrasin’s fine 58th-minute strike sealed a vital three points and there were chances to make the victory even more convincing.

The damage done by Sunday’s 4-1 defeat to India may yet prevent the War Elephants from progressing to the last 16 but they have at least given themselves a fighting chance ahead of the final Group A game against hosts UAE.

UAE’s 2-0 win over India leaves the group finely balanced but the Thais almost certainly need to take at least a point from Alberto Zaccheroni’s side and hope other results go their way.

Here are three reasons why Thailand managed to recover from one of their worst humiliations and the subsequent dismissal of head coach Milovan Rajevac.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. Chanathip rises to the occasion

After the meek submission against India, Thailand needed their biggest players to show character and it was their biggest star who shone brightest in an excellent second-half display.

The Consadole Sapporo playmaker took the game to the Bahrainis and fired home the decisive strike, swiftly adjusting his body shape to meet Tristan Do’s low cross and guiding the ball high into the net with a brilliantly controlled and powerful left-footed finish.

Apart from the goal, his work-rate was impressive and he scrapped for every ball while also taking the pressure off the defence by driving forward whenever he had the opportunity. His performance was summed up by a moment in which he stole the ball off the toe of a Bahraini player about 30 yards from the Thai goal and evaded several challenges before being crowded out deep into the opposition half.

He set up Adisak Kraisorn for what should have been the clinching goal with a wonderful reverse pass that completely deceived the Bahrain defence. Adisak had a tricky angle and rattled his shot off the post but it was a glorious opportunity.

Thailand will look to Chanathip again when they face the UAE after he, more than anyone, made amends for the traumatic second half against India.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. Tristan back to his best

It would not be dancing on Rajevac’s grave to suggest that he might have got it wrong by overlooking Tristan Do for much of his tenure. Do’s absence from many of Rajevac’s squads confused most fans but there were clearly issues between the Serbian and Do’s former club, Muang Thong United.

Former regulars Peerapat Notchaiya, Charyl Chappuis and Adisorn Promrak also found themselves apparently out of favour under Rajevac.

After the overseas departures of Kawin Thamsatchanan, Chanathip, Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan, the Kirins went from providing almost all of the national side to almost none of them in the space of two years.

It was assumed that Do’s attacking instincts from full-back did not fit into Rajevac’s playing style but that explanation was unconvincing given the absence of so many other Muang Thong stars.

Do’s energy down the right wing has been sorely missed and his all action performance against Bahrain was capped by the assist for the winning goal.

Whatever the reasons were for his prolonged absence from the national side, it was great to see him back to his thrilling best in such an important match.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. Siwarak grabs his chance

Karin’s unavailability has made the goalkeeping position a headache since the shaky performances of both Siwarak Tedsungnoen and Chatchai Budprom at the AFF Suzuki Cup.

Chatchai had held the jersey for six games despite some uncertain displays but he again failed to impress as he conceded four goals against India.

Interim coach Sirisak Yodyardthai turned to Buriram United’s Siwarak and he did not disappoint. He made some key saves and gave more confidence to a defence that had little faith in Chatchai’s positioning and distribution.

Sirisak surprisingly replaced Chalermpong Kerdkaew with Suphan Thongsong and added Adisorn to make a three-man central defence as he made a clean break from Rajevac’s much criticised 4-2-3-1 system. But bringing Siwarak back into the starting eleven was perhaps the most important decision he made.

Sirisak raised eyebrows after the match when he suggested that he was unsure which goalkeeper would start against the UAE. Whatever he said in public, there surely can’t be any doubt.

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