A stirring second-half performance against Bahrain earned Thailand the victory they needed to stay in with a chance of reaching the last 16 of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in UAE.
However, they now face the unenviable challenge of taking at least a point from the hosts on Monday if they want to remain in the competition.
The damage done by the 4-1 defeat to India may yet come back to haunt them if goal difference comes into play but they must first focus on how they can beat the UAE to secure progress.
Interim head coach Sirisak Yodyardthai made some changes that worked out in the 1-0 win over Bahrain and he will need to come up with the perfect game plan if Thailand are to get the right result.
Here are three things Thailand must do to reach the Round of 16.
- Take chances
It’s an obvious thing to suggest but Thailand could have ended up with just a point against Bahrain after squandering a couple of excellent opportunities to kill the game off.
Adisak Kraisorn rattled a shot off the post after Chanathip Songkrasin had put him clean through and Teerasil Dangda would have scored one of the goals of the tournament if he had beaten the keeper after running through the Bahrain defence.
Thailand are unlikely to get many chances against a mean UAE defence. The Emiratis have conceded just once in their first two matches and, while head coach Alberto Zaccheroni has come under a lot of pressure for his side’s misfiring attack, they tend to keep it tight at the back.
India did manage to create several chances against them on Matchday Two but will be kicking themselves at failing to make their early dominance pay before losing 2-0.
You have to go back over two years to find the last time that UAE conceded more than twice in a game. You only have to go back a week to find the last time Thailand did this…
The Thais must be clinical in front of goal or face the prospect of a disappointing end to their first Asian Cup campaign in 12 years.
Photo Credit: @Changsuek
- Keep three at the back
One of the main criticisms of Milovan Rajevac was his persistence in sticking with a flat back four and keeping the full-backs very much focused on their defensive duties.
This saw him overlook Tristan Do – one of Thailand’s best attacking players. It also led to Theerathon Bunmathan often being played out of position.
Against Bahrain, both wing-backs were given more freedom to push forward and Do in particular relished his role down the right and provided the assist for Chanathip’s winning goal.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened to Rajevac, the Thai players looked back to their old selves with a system that was more familiar.
However, Rajevac was always building towards fixtures like this when the Thais need to be intense and focused against a stronger side. It remains to be seen if the more adventurous 3-4-1-2 will work on this occasion, and Sirisak may decide to replace Adisak with Sanrawat Dechmitr or Pokklaw Anan to add numbers in the middle.
- Keep calm
The host side often appears to benefit from some favourable refereeing decisions and we saw evidence of this on Matchday One as the UAE rescued a point when they were wrongly awarded a late penalty against Bahrain.
If some decisions go against the Thais, they will have to make sure they contain their emotions and stay focused on the task at hand. The players must avoid giving the referee any reason to take action against them and avoid any unnecessary yellow cards from conceding cheap fouls or showing dissent.
The Thai players will be heroes if they can negotiate such a tough hurdle and come away with the result that takes them to the last 16 – a highly unlikely outcome after the thrashing against India and the dismissal of Rajevac.
They will have to use their heads as well as their hearts in the heat of the battle against a home side that will very much want the three points that will secure top spot in the group and a potentially easier route to the quarter final.