Muang Thong ready to derail Buriram’s title challenge

Muang Thong United will try and play the role of spoilers in the Thai League (T1) title race when they host leaders Buriram United on Matchday 26.

The Kirins failed to mount a title bid of their own due to a dismal start to the campaign but they have the ability to put a dent in the hopes their rivals on Saturday.

Second-placed Chiang Rai United will aim to keep the pressure on Buriram when they face Trat FC at home, while there is a huge clash between Chainat and Sukhothai in the battle to beat the drop.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 26.

  1. Muang Thong aim to damage Buriram hopes 

A series of defeats in a shambolic start to the 2019 T1 campaign ensured that Muang Thong United would not be serious challengers for their first title since 2016. However, such has been their improvement, they have the best record of any side over the last 15 matches.

Buriram will certainly be wary of a team that can beat anyone on their day and who have twice beaten Chiang Rai this year. Former Buriram boss Alexandre Gama is now in charge at the Kirins and he certainly knew how to get the better of the champions during his two seasons at Chiang Rai.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Muang Thong were impressive in their recent 4-1 win over Suphanburi as Derley underlined his quality with a brace. Meanwhile, Buriram continue to blow hot and cold as they seek to tie up a sixth title win in seven years.

Kirins fans would love to see their team lay down a marker for next year and they would undoubtedly be happy for a victory to derail their rivals’ bid to win the 2019 title. Attacking midfielder Supachok Sarachat may be the key man for the visitors as he attempts to recreate his heroics for the national team in midweek.

  1. Chiang Rai’s chance to keep up the pressure 

With Buriram facing a tough fixture at Muang Thong, Chiang Rai United must make the most of an opportunity to keep within a point of the T1 leaders or even overtake them when they host Trat.

The visitors look to have accrued enough points to secure another season in T1 so the Beetles should be the more motivated of the two sides. Nevertheless, Trat will pose a significant goal threat, having scored more than Chiang Rai this year, thanks mainly to the contributions of T1’s leading scorer Lonsana Doumbouya.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

This is a game in which to get the three points by whatever means as every result has a huge impact on the title race. In a normal season, Chiang Rai’s modest total of 47 points from 25 games would not enable them to challenge for the title but they have a huge opportunity to upset the odds.

Any slip from Buriram combined with a Chiang Rai win would see the side from the north in pole position with just four matches remaining.

  1. Desperate times for Chainat

Four defeats in five games have seen Chainat sink to joint bottom of T1. Sukhothai sit three points above them so the Firebats visit on Sunday promises to have a huge bearing on the outcome of the season for both sides.

Sukhothai are unbeaten in five, though their last four games have been drawn. The Hornbills might have been confident that home advantage would have been key when they were beating the likes of Buriram, Bangkok United and Muang Thong on home turf earlier in the year.

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Photo credit: Chainat FC

However, they have failed to win any of their last three home games and capitulated late in the recent fixture with Samut Prakan City when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

We are likely to see a very tight and tense affair at the Khao Plong Stadium with both teams having everything to lose. Neither side is in winning form, with Sukhothai having taken just one win from the last 10 matches and Chainat just one from eight. It will be interesting to see if either can rediscover that winning feeling in one of their biggest games of the year.

  1. Life after Joksic begins with a tough test 

Milos Joksic’s four-year reign as Nakhon Ratchasima head coach ended following a humiliating defeat at Chiang Mai. Veteran Chalermwut Sa-ngapol takes over and tries to steer the club to safety as they sit just three points above the relegation zone.

With just one win in 11 T1 games, Chalermwut faces a formidable challenge as he tries to lift morale and it doesn’t get much more difficult than a trip to Port FC. The Klong Toey side may have seen their title hopes disappear with a defeat at Bangkok United last time out but they remain in third spot – 15 points ahead of the struggling Swatcats.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

60-year-old Chalermwut’s recent record will not inspire confidence among the Nakhon Ratchasima faithful but the club will be hoping that he can use his experience to make a quick and crucial impact in the final five matches of the season.

On a weekend on which relegation rivals Sukhothai and Chainat meet, the Swatcats will be happy with a point in this one and they would be absolutely delighted with three.

Thais must find cutting edge to win in Indonesia

Thailand’s disappointing draw on Matchday One of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign makes it vital that they respond by winning in Indonesia on Tuesday.

The War Elephants’ blunt attack cost them a chance of victory at home to a physical Vietnam side in Thursday’s bruising encounter.

They must now find the way to goal to avoid slipping behind several Group G rivals. Here are three things to look out for in Indonesia Vs Thailand.

  1. The striking problem 

Teerasil Dangda has had to wear the crown of Thailand’s leading striker for over a decade. Now with his powers fading, his successor has yet to become apparent.

Injury prevented Teerasil from playing on Thursday and head coach Akira Nishino decided to start without a recognised striker. Supachai Jaided’s physicality looked like he may have been an option as lone striker but Nishino was not convinced despite having several attacking midfielders to play off him.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

The result, of course, was a failure to score and this may force Nishino to reconsider his options. He was unlucky that he could not call upon Teerasil or even Buriram prodigy Suphanat Mueanta who, at 17, looks most likely to end a long wait and become a worthy successor to Teerasil.

However, Nishino witnessed just how, for all of their possession, Thailand were generally unable to penetrate the Vietnamese backline and create opportunities. The starting XI had scored just 23 international goals between them – 20 fewer than Teerasil’s personal haul. Supachai – who has scored four times in 15 matches – must be in Nishino’s thoughts as he considers how to get the better of an Indonesia team that conceded three goals against Malaysia on Thursday.

  1. Replacing Thitipan

After Chanathip Songkrasin, Thitipan Puangchan has arguably been Thailand’s most consistent performer over the last two years. His injury rules him out of this match and Nishino will be forced into a change.

Peeradol Chamratsamee’s injury robs him of one potential replacement and Patcharapol Intanee has been drafted in to plug the hole. It is difficult to identify a direct replacement for Thitipan’s skill set but it is disappointing that two of the players of the Thai League season – Bodin Phala and Sasalak Haiprakhon did not get a look-in last week.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Sasalak offers similar energy to Thitipan and could play wide, assuming Nishino sticks with the three central midfielders that started against Vietnam. Bodin provides pace, directness and a goal threat from distance that few others in the squad possess.

Nishino will be unlikely to tinker too much with a formation that managed to more than match a good Vietnam side. However, Thitipan’s absence gives him an unwelcome headache as he seeks to put together a midfield that will dominate possession and create chances.

  1. A time for cool heads

As Malaysia found out on Thursday, the atmosphere in Jakarta can be hostile. Unfortunately, in a country which has a severe hooliganism problem, some fans overstepped the mark and attacked away supporters, forcing the referee to stop the game until order was restored.

The visitors gave their answers on the pitch and struck in added time to win 3-2. It is vital that Thailand do the same and do not react to the crowd or physical challenges from their opponents.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Thursday’s match against Vietnam was often played on the edge of the rules and a couple of Thai players got away with tackles that might have been severely punished by another referee.

The War Elephants must play with controlled aggression and not allow themselves to be drawn into a confrontational clash that tests their discipline. After their loss on Matchday One, the Indonesians will be desperate for the win but Thailand have the better players and must manage the conditions and prove their superiority on the pitch.

Reports of slow ticket sales suggest that the Indonesians may not be able to generate a large home support and this may work in Thailand’s favour.

Thailand’s Nishino looks to find winning formula in tough Vietnam debut

Thailand’s new head coach faces a tough test in his first game in charge as the War Elephants host Vietnam in a 2022 World Cup Group G qualifier on Thursday.

The second round begins with a repeat of the fixture that the Thais dominated in the 2018 campaign. But much has changed in four years, with Vietnam and Thailand now looking very evenly matched.

The Golden Stars have their own golden generation and will be confident of taking something in Thailand, having won 1-0 in the recent King’s Cup match in Buriram.

Here are three things to look out for as Nishino tries to work out the best formation for the playing resources at his disposal

  1. Muddle over men at the back

Thailand reverted to a 3-5-1-1 formation following the departure of Milovan Rajevac, who had favoured 4-2-3-1. Having three at the back allowed Thailand to use the attacking instincts of Theerathon Bunmathan and Tristan Do in the wide areas.

Central defensive options are, as usual, limited. Pansa Hemviboon is likely to start, while Adisorn Promrak’s experience may see him get the nod despite often failing to start for his club Muang Thong United this year.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Manuel Bihr and Shinnaphat Lee-oh are other options if they go for three in the centre but Bihr has been capped just four times while Shinnaphat is still uncapped. You have to assume that Do and Theerathon will be first choices but who makes up the central area is up for debate.

Shoddy Thailand defending and sometimes goalkeeping have seen Thailand fail to compete with Asia’s best so Nishino’s selections in this area will be absolutely vital. The country is not spoiled for defensive talent so organisation and tactics will have to be spot-on.

  1. Form or favour for middle men?

 Since 2014, Tanaboon Kesarat has been a first-choice pick for Thailand, either as a defensive midfielder or centre-back. He has already earned 47 caps at the age of just 25 but could it be time for him to take a step back to recover the form that he has never really shown since suffering a serious injury in 2017?

He has always been unconvincing at centre-back and recent performances at the heart of the Thai midfield have been unimpressive. Peeradol Chamratsamee would surely be a better choice alongside Thitiphan Puangchan at the base of the midfield.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Further forward, Chanathip Songkrasin will be the main man as he is given freedom to run the Vietnam defence ragged. There will have to be players in there to protect him as the Consadole Sapporo playmaker will surely be targeted by a physical Vietnam side.

It would be good to see Bodin Phala given a chance and Sasalak Haiprakhon’s consistency should also make him a strong contender for place in any three-man attacking midfield. Sasalak alternates between wing-back and centre-midifeld for Buriram United but would certainly have the right qualities to play in a more advanced role.

Thailand are spoiled for choice when it comes to the more offensive midfield roles so a balance between guile and grit is vital.

  1. Supachai’s time to shine

It was thought that 2019 would be the year in which Supachai Jaided really established himself as the next big thing in Thai football. 2018 had been a breakthrough year both at club and international level and his goal in the 2019 Asian Cup Round of 16 match against China was evidence of his ability to deliver under pressure.

However, it has been a patchy season in the Thai League for the 20-year-old. While he rarely plays in his preferred role as an out-and-out striker, just two league goals is a poor return for an attacking player. He has been usurped by Buriram United’s child prodigy Suphanat Mueanta who, at 17, has netted seven times in the league and also notched a goal in the AFC Champions League.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

With Teerasil Dangda injured and Adisak Kraisorn unable to get a game for Muang Thong, Supachai is the only recognized striker in the Thailand squad and even he often plays elsewhere for his club.

It is a problem area for Nishino but it seems that Supachai has been identified as the man to lead the line and pose a physical threat. If he can recapture the confidence he had last year, he could make a big impact. He will, however, have to keep the head. Vietnam players may target his suspect temperament having seen him sent off for violent conduct against their U23 side earlier this year.

 

 

La Liga aims to break EPL dominance and help Thai League become country’s No.1

The English Premier League (EPL) may be the biggest show in town in Thailand but Spain’s La Liga is determined to make inroads in its quest to be the second biggest league in the country.

But La Liga delegate to Thailand Jose Maria Gotor insists the intention is not for La Liga to play second fiddle to the EPL, but to the Thai League.

Jose Maria has been in Thailand for two years in a role that also covers neighbouring Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. So far, he is happy at the progress being made as Spanish football’s popularity continues to rise.

“The reason why I moved here and my main goal is to get La Liga closer to our Thai fans and grow our fan base,” Jose Maria told ThaiFootie.

“We realise that we have a lot of fans in Thailand. Currently on Facebook, we have over 600,000 Thai followers.

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“Until two years ago, our focus was mainly on Spain but our president became aware of the importance of fans outside of Spain and decided to carry out this international expansion.

“We haven’t traditionally been very active in this part of the world but we believe that we have huge growth potential here. We know that Thais are crazy about football, which is the No. 1 sport in the country.

“According to a recent study by Nielsen Sports Research, Thailand came second highest in a survey that asked people whether or not they were interested in football – at 78 per cent.”

In the same study, footballing superpowers like Italy (67 per cent), Brazil (60 per cent) and Germany (60 per cent), trailed Thailand, highlighting the country’s potential.

However, in a nation where the EPL has been the most popular league for many years, La Liga has a huge challenge in its hands as it attempts to gain more of a market share. Any survey of Thai fans’ favourite teams is likely to see Liverpool and Manchester United as the Top Two, rather than Barcelona and Real Madrid, with Buriram United and Muang Thong United much further behind.

But Jose Maria is undeterred by the EPL’s dominance and wants to see the Thai League overtake both the EPL and La Liga.

“The EPL has been here for a very long time and they are very deep rooted among Thailand’s football fans,” he said. “But we have a huge football fan base in Thailand and as our president always says, we don’t want to be No. 1 in Thailand, we don’t want to be the top league, we want to be the second league. We want to collaborate with the Thai League so the Thai League can be number one. That’s the way it should be and that’s our approach.

“We want to collaborate with the local football industry to help them grow and this way there will be opportunities for everyone so football fans will have many choices and they will have more access to La Liga in their own language.

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“One of the first things I did when I came to Thailand was to sign an MOU with the Thai League and the Football Association of Thailand (FAT). That was my way to let people know that La Liga was here to collaborate with the local football industry, not just coming here and doing our thing and leaving. We’re here to stay.”

MOUs are sometimes considered nothing more than an opportunity for publicity and it can sometimes be difficult to identify concrete results from such agreements. But Jose Maria is keen to point out that La Liga’s actions back up the words on the document.

“We have done many activities, not just signing and taking a photo,” he said. “I took two Thai national youth teams to Spain for the first time in history. One of them was the U16 team last August. In two weeks, they played four friendly games against La Liga teams. They were trained by La Liga coaches.

“This year in April, we took the U15 national team to different cities and played friendly games again. We participated in some Thai League workshops for clubs and staff, bringing some experts from Spain, from clubs and from La Liga.

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“We are currently exploring other opportunities for collaboration. Last year in September, at La Liga headquarters, we welcomed the full executive committee of the FAT for a knowledge sharing summit. We showed them how we work in different areas.

“We also work with the Sports Authority of Thailand in the youth league. Last year, we brought four La Liga coaches to Thailand to conduct a clinic for Thailand youth league coaches. They also scouted the best players from the four different age groups of the Thailand youth league. We’re basically trying to cover the whole local football industry.

“It’s a very big job and we need to go step by step. I think the Thai League are doing a great job. The Thai football industry is growing fast and in the right direction. Anything we can do to support, we will be at their disposal.”

The star power of La Liga continues to draw the best players in the world, with Eden Hazard a recent example of how the EPL still can’t compete with the opportunity to play for Real Madrid.

Cristiano Ronaldo may have swapped La Liga for Serie A last year but Jose Maria insists that there has been no discernable impact.

“To be honest, we haven’t suffered any damage in that sense,” he said. “Players come and go, they get older. You need to be prepared to replace them at some point. We’ve always had the best players in the world in La Liga. We have had Johan Cruyff, Alfredo Di Stefano, Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Maradona. They all come and go, it’s part of life but new players will come and replace them.

“We can see Joao Felix has just signed for Atletico Madrid. He is just 19 years old and he looks very promising. We have also signed Eden Hazard, another amazing player.”

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While the top sides from the major European leagues continue to visit other countries in Asia for lucrative friendly matches, Thailand has seen a slowdown in such showpiece events, with Liverpool the last big name to visit back in 2015.

Jose Maria is hopeful that Thai fans will soon get to see a La Liga side, with some of biggest having visited in previous years.

“In the past, we have had Real Madrid, Barcelona, U.D. Almeria and Atletico Madrid in Thailand,” he said. “I hope we can have another La Liga team in Thailand soon. There are always different opportunities and clubs want to come. We just have to find the right moment and the right timing and I’m sure soon the fans will be able to enjoy some La Liga teams in Thailand.”

While we may see some of the world’s finest in Thailand should a La Liga club sign up for a friendly, there may also be opportunities for Thai players to follow in the footsteps of Teerasil Dangda. The striker spent six months on loan at UD Almeria back in 2014. While it was not a hugely successful move, it showed that Thai players were on the radar of Spanish clubs.

Jose Maria thinks Thai players have the potential to thrive in Spanish football due to similarities in how the countries play the game.

“The way Thai players play is similar to the Spanish style,” he said. “We don’t play a physical game. We need smart players who understand the game and I see common ground between Thai players and La Liga.

“Asian football is growing, and better players are being produced. We were traditionally more focused on other parts of the world, for example, Central and South America for cultural reasons and the language.

“But La Liga clubs are realizing that there is great potential in the region. This year, there has been a Japanese boom in La Liga. Real Madrid signed Takefusa Kubo, Barcelona signed Hiroki Abe and Real Zaragoza in the second division signed Shinji Kagawa.

“La Liga clubs are paying attention to what’s happening in this part of the world. Right now, it’s Japan but it will eventually be other countries in the region. At some point, I’m sure some La Liga clubs will again target Thai players. “

Port come up short again as Vander inspires Bangkok United

Port FC blew a chance to close the gap on Buriram United at the top of the Thai League (T1) as Bangkok United once again beat them on Matchday 25.

Mano Polking’s side edged to a 2-0 victory that moved them just two points behind Port, while Buriram United stayed at the top of the league despite drawing at home to Sukhothai.

At the other end of the table, Chainat sank into deeper trouble with what could be a costly defeat at Ratchaburi.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 25.

  1. Port meet familiar fate

The form book suggested that Port FC were favourites going into Saturday’s match at Bangkok United but history suggested otherwise. Nine years had passed since their last league win over the Bangkok Angels and that will become 10 after the hosts raised their game following a run of just one T1 win in six.

Bangkok United were boosted by the presence of Nelson Bonilla and Tristan Do on the bench, while Peerapat Notchaiya made his first start in several weeks following his own injury absence.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

It was Bonilla’s deputy Chananan Pombuppha who opened the scoring early in the second half while Everton’s late header sealed the victory. But the star man was Vander Luis, who set up both goals and tormented the Port defence in the second 45 minutes in particular.

With Bonilla and Do both making appearances from the bench, Bangkok United can look ahead to their FA Cup semifinal against Port with increased optimism. Meanwhile, Choketawee Promrut’s side will have to consider what might have been after falling five points off top spot.

  1. Late penalty saves Buriram

Last week’s 6-0 victory over Ratchaburi suggested that Buriram United may be ready to romp to the title. Saturday’s stuttering performance at home to struggling Sukhothai suggested it might be more of a crawl.

Buriram remain top of T1 despite a win percentage of just 52 per cent as all of their challengers have stumbled and fallen in their pursuit. The Thunder Castle are on course to retain their title in spite of themselves and because the teams around them have apparently failed to seize the day. However, Chiang Rai United’s victory at Chonburi moved them just a point off the top again to keep Buriram looking over their shoulder.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

The Firebats almost took a much-needed three points at the Chang Arena, having held on to the lead given to them by Iain Ramsay until added time. When Jung Myoung-oh blocked a shot from close range, a penalty was awarded and the spot-kick was predictably tucked away by Andres Tunez.

Television replays failed to confirm whether the ball struck Jung on the arm or side, but Buriram were grateful for the reprieve, as they were to Bangkok United for keeping Port FC at a distance.

  1. Boli brace lifts Dragons

A defeat would have sucked Ratchaburi back into the relegation scrap but a 2-1 over Chainat put eight points between them and their opponents. It has been another tough season for the Dragons, who have swapped stability for chaos off the pitch, resulting in erratic form on it.

The attacking talents at the club look to have done enough to secure another season in T1 and it was Yannick Boli’s second-half double that sealed the three points here. Chainat had opened the scoring through Ricardo Santos’ penalty but, like last week at home to Samut Prakan City, they failed to hold onto a lead.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

The Hornbills have now lost four of the last five and face a monumental clash at home to Sukhothai on Matchday 26 after the international break. The Firebats now sit three points above Chainat with a much superior goal difference, so anything but a win would see Dennis Amato’s side staring relegation in the face.

Ratchaburi, on the other hand, can probably start planning for another year in the top flight and they would do well to consider the formula that saw them finish between fourth and seventh from 2014 to 2017. The chopping and changing of head coaches in the last two years has undermined their credibility and they need to have the conditions in place to match their ambitions.

Port FC aiming to lay Bangkok United bogey to rest

Port FC must overcome bogey team Bangkok United if they are to maintain their Thai League (T1) challenge on Matchday 25.

The Bangkok Angels have consistently got the better of matches between the two sides but this looks the perfect time to change that pattern.

Buriram United have a great opportunity to consolidate their lead at the top with a match at home to Sukhothai, while it may be last-chance saloon for Chiang Mai.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 25.

  1. Port’s big chance to put Bangkok United to the sword

With Bangkok United’s morale at rock bottom, while Port FC are on a roll, Saturday’s match at the True Stadium seems the ideal time for Port to earn a long-awaited victory over the Bangkok Angels.

The last time they triumphed in this fixture in the league was back in 2010. May’s bad-tempered 1-1 draw at the PAT Stadium at least put an end to a six-match losing streak against Mano Polking’s side. But Port had come into that game on the back of five consecutive wins, while Bangkok United had won just two in seven.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Following that match, Port won just won of their next eight matches, while Bangkok United went on a four-match winning streak – their best of the season.

With Port having moved five points clear of this weekend’s opponents, they still have an outside chance of the title, while Bangkok United are now out of the running. To prove they have the required mental strength to challenge Buriram, this is a chance for Choketawee Promrut’s side to send the message that they won’t be shaken off in their pursuit.

However, Polking has an unbeaten record against Port and he will want to preserve that as he attempts to rebuild confidence ahead of an FA Cup semi-final against the same side. But Bangkok United’s injured top scorer Nelson Bonilla looks set to miss out yet again.

  1. Buriram aim to hammer home advantage 

It is a year that has seen Buriram’s worst performance in T1 since a woeful 2016 campaign saw them finish fourth. That season was cut short by four matches, meaning Buriram took 55 points from 30 games.

With T1 having moved to a 30-match schedule, the maximum Buriram can rack up this year is 65 points. It is far from the dominance of 2017, when they dropped just 16 points, or 2018, when they dropped just 15. In 2019 to date, Buriram have let slip 24 points in 10 fewer games but somehow find themselves with a three-point lead at the top of the table.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

The champions’ young talent came to the fore last weekend as Suphanat Mueanta, Supachok Sarachat and Rattanakorn Maikami all found the net in a 6-0 rout of Ratchaburi. They now look well set for a sixth title in seven years, with Sukhothai heading for the Chang Arena looking slightly like lambs to the slaughter.

The Firebats sit just two points above the relegation zone and they may look at this fixture as mission impossible with more winnable matches to come. Nevertheless, Buriram have shown unusual vulnerability and inconsistency this season, while Sukhothai can take heart from a battling draw at Chiang Rai last weekend.

The odds are certainly in Buriram United’s favour but Sukhothai are unbeaten in four and may not roll over in the fashion of last week’s hapless visiting team.

  1. Crunch time for Chiang Mai and Swatcats 

Chiang Mai’s home support dipped below 1,000 fans last weekend as the folly of a mid-season move to Chiang Rai was laid bare. A club that generally cannot buy its own players and play in its own city does not seem to have a place in any league, never mind T1.

Chiang Mai’s farcical dependence on Chiang Rai United for loan players hit them hard when their ‘big brother’ recalled Ekanit Panya and robbed them of one of their most inspirational talents. The Beetles understandably put their T1 title challenge ahead of the Lanna Tigers’ survival bid and Chiang Mai are in serious trouble.

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Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC

They have done well to stay in with a chance of survival for so long but time is running out and they are five points from safety. Nakhon Ratchasima may seem the ideal visitors at this time as they have just one win in 10 matches and need points to ensure their own safety.

Should the Swatcats manage to take the three points, Chiang Mai can surely start planning for life in T2. However, Chiang Mai have repeatedly shown that they won’t give up without a fight and it would be no great surprise to see them live to fight another day.

  1. Ratchaburi looking for more Langil magic 

Ratchaburi’s mercurial playmaker Steeven Langil signed a one-year contract extension this week and, having missed the last couple of matches through injury, the Dragons will hope to have him fit and ready torment Chainat again.

Earlier in the year, the Frenchman turned on the style as Ratchaburi destroyed the Hornbills 3-0 away from home. Now five points above Dennis Amato’s side, they can ease any lingering relegation worries by defeating the same opponents at home on Saturday.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

Ratchaburi may have been wounded by a 6-0 loss at Buriram last week but Chainat’s 3-2 defeat at home to Samut Prakan City was arguably more damaging. The Hornbills threw away a desperately needed three points by blowing a 2-1 lead late in the game.

This sets the scene for an intriguing match and all eyes will be on the influence of Langil, who has impressed in his first season in Thailand.

Buriram hit six of the best to edge closer to yet another Thai League title

Buriram United finally pulled clear at the top of the Thai League (T1) as they thumped hapless Ratchaburi 6-0.

With second-placed Chiang Rai United dropping two points at home to Sukhothai, the champions opened up a three-point gap and few would bet against them staying on top.

Meanwhile, Bangkok United signaled their surrender with a limp display at Prachuap, while Port FC kept up their challenge with a win at Suphanburi.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 24.

  1. Buriram blitz sends out a message 

Ratchaburi’s erratic form makes it difficult to know what to expect from them but, without the injured Steeven Langil and the ineligible Javier Patiño and with Lossamy Karaboue curiously left on the bench, they were short of three of their key attacking weapons at Buriram on Saturday.

Buriram United took advantage by brushing their opponents aside with some devastating finishing. 17-year-old Suphanat Mueanta opened the scoring with a nicely cushioned volley before Andres Tunez converted a penalty.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

In the second-half, Rattakorn Maikami scored a rare goal with an excellent finish with the outside of the boot, though the best was yet to come as Suphanat fed the ball inside to his older brother Supachok Sarachat. Supachok lined up his shot and smashed the ball into the top corner from distance.

Narubadin Weerawatnodom’s thunderous effort from a narrow angle was the first of two added-time goals, with Nacer Barazite grabbing the other. It has been a long, stuttering journey to get Buriram into this position, but we are now surely going to see Bozidar Bandovic’s men secure a sixth T1 title in seven years.

  1. Bangkok United raise the white flag 

It was a season that began with such high hopes for Bangkok United as Nelson Bonilla, Tristan Do, Peerapat Notchaiya, Anon Amornledsak and Mike Havenaar looked set to be the final parts of a jigsaw that would turn the club from nearly men into champions.

None of these five players were in the starting lineup when the Bangkok Angels faced struggling Prachuap FC on Saturday. Do missed his seventh game of the season through injury, while Bonilla was unavailable for the sixth time. Notchaiya – who has failed to win back his place in the starting lineup after injury – was on the bench, alongside Anon.

Havenaar’s failure to adapt to the Thai climate and footballing style saw him cut from the squad mid-season, replaced by 33-year-old free agent Jaycee John, who has failed make an impact.

Poor on-field discipline has seen an eight-game suspension for creative midfielder Sanrawat Dechmitr and two recent red cards for Pokklaw Anan – one for dissent and one for a petulant kick.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Despite a massive drop-off in performance from Buriram, Bangkok United have failed miserably to take the best opportunity they may ever have of breaking the dominance of the Thunder Castle.

Saturday’s listless performance in the 1-0 defeat at Prachuap saw them slip nine points off top spot to finally confirm that they are no longer contenders for the title. The Killer Wasps showed more energy and appetite despite having played 120 minutes in the midweek League Cup victory over Chiang Rai United. Supot Jodjam’s first-half goal settled the match and the visitors rarely looked like leveling the score.

Bangkok United can still end the season on a high with an FA Cup victory but on the evidence of this performance, few would expect them to lift a much-coveted trophy.

  1. Port stay in touch at the top

Port FC’s resurgence under Choketawee Promrut continued as they ended Suphanburi’s seven-game unbeaten run with a 3-1 victory away from home.

Not only did they inflict a first defeat on the War Elephant in seven games, but they also scored as many in 90 minutes as the total other opponents had managed against the same side in that seven-match run.

Sumanya Purisai’s early injury gave Rolando Blackburn an opportunity from the bench and his acrobatic effort put Port in front. An own goal made it 2-0 before Miki Seroshtan pulled one back and ensured a nervous finish.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Nurul Sriyankem’s added-time goal sealed victory and the winger was ecstatic in his celebrations, having endured a difficult season due to injury and then seeing his path back into the starting XI blocked by Bordin Phala’s outstanding form.

Port stayed four points behind Buriram and, with the two clashing in Buriram on the penultimate match of the season, there is much to play for in the next four games to set up what could be a winner-takes-all match.

Suphanburi seek killer touch while rejuvenated Port target title again

Suphanburi aim to make it eight games without defeat when they host title challengers Port FC on Thai League (T1) Matchday 24.

The War Elephant remain in the relegation zone despite having racked up a seven-game unbeaten streak and they desperately need to start converting draws into wins if they are to stay in T1.

Nakhon Ratchasima face a huge test at Chonburi with head coach Milos Joksic under fire from fans, while Prachuap will hope that their midweek League Cup semifinal win boosts morale for their home clash with Bangkok United.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 24.

  1. Suphanburi need wins not draws 

Since Adebayo Gbadebo took over from struggling head coach Totchtawan Sripan, he has certainly got Suphanburi moving in the right direction again. The defence has conceded just three goals in seven T1 matches – a run that has included draws with Buriram United and Bangkok United.

At the other end of the pitch, however, just five goals have been scored by a blunt attack. Out-of-sorts Cleiton Silva and out-of-shape Guilherme Dellatorre cannot find the form to trouble opposing defences and grab the goals that would lift them to safety.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

This weekend does not look a good time to be facing Port FC who are buoyant after last Sunday’s stirring win over Muang Thong United. Choketawee Promrut’s side are dreaming of a title win again, having emerged from a slump that seemed set to kill off their hopes.

While Suphanburi’s strikers are struggling for goals, Port have been getting by without strikers, though Josimar will surely start after his all-action performance and clinching goal last week.

This match will either send Suphanburi deeper into relegation trouble or put another dent in Port’s title challenge. The momentum is very much with the away side and the War Elephant will have to find a cutting edge to earn the three points they need.

  1. Sharks lie in wait for under fire Milos

Nakhon Ratchasima’s season seems to be fizzling out to the extent that a relegation battle will be looming if the Swatcats lose this one. A single victory in nine T1 matches has seen them go from Top Five contenders to just four points above the relegation zone.

Such is the nature of this year’s compressed T1 table, a win here could take them as high as seventh, while they could slip back to 12th with a defeat. Head coach Milos Joksic has come under heavy criticism from fans for their recent form, with many calling for his head.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

The wisdom of making a change at this crucial stage of the season would certainly be questionable but a Chonburi victory on Saturday would see the campaign to oust him gather further momentum.

Joksic needs a victory to relieve the pressure but Chonburi will be equally keen to take three points as they target a finish in the Top Six.

  1. Prachuap look for a lift after cup boost 

Prachuap FC fans finally had something to cheer in midweek as their relegation threatened club reached the League Cup final after a shock win over holders Chiang Rai United. The Killer Wasps prevailed in a penalty shootout following a match that ended in a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes and a 3-3 tie after extra time.

Prachuap will now hope that the morale boost helps lift their T1 form. They have won just twice in a 17-match spell going back to the beginning of April.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Their opponents on Saturday – Bangkok United – are still clinging to their title hopes but, realistically, a run of seven wins in their last seven matches will be required and even that may not be enough with three clubs above them. They should have a decent chance of three points against a team that went through a 120-minute slog on Wednesday but the Prachuap pitch may not be best suited to their preferred style of football.

It has been a disappointing season for both clubs and they will be desperate to end it on a high. For Prachuap this means T1 survival, while for the Bangkok Angels, a failure to become Thai champions would only be offset by a second-place finish and an FA Cup triumph.

Nongbua’s Holland hopes to stun Buriram in League Cup clash

Nongbua Pitchaya head coach Matt Holland is aiming to put one over on his former employers when the T2 side meet Buriram United in the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday.

In two different spells over a total of three years at the Thai champions, Holland worked as Head of Youth Development, Football Development manager and Technical Director.

However, the 31-year-old Welshman is relishing the opportunity to face some of his old friends and wants to cause a huge upset.

“You want to play against your old clubs, it’s the beauty of football,” said Holland. “I’ve been lucky to have worked for a club like Buriram. Many people want to but never get the chance, so I’m grateful to Khun Newin, Khun Karuna and Khun Tadthep for that, not once, but twice in my career.

“There are still many people there who I know there and still communicate with, so to coach against a team that you know and who, budget-wise, are astronomically different to us, you have a chance to try and show what you can do, to try and boost the players that you’ve got and to put a good performance in.”

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Buriram United come into the game on the back of two tough matches at Trat, edging the FA Cup quarter-final on penalties last week before a late strike earned them a T1 victory at the weekend. The Thunder Castle still have much to do to defend their league title as they sit just a point above Chiang Rai United.

Nongbua, meanwhile, sit mid-table in T2 – safe from relegation but too far off the pace for a promotion bid. Holland has steadied the ship since arriving at the club when they were on a four-match losing streak, and his second game in charge was a 1-0 victory over Ratchaburi in the League Cup Round of 16.

Nongbua beat an under-strength Port FC in the First Round, but Holland feels that Buriram will be fully motivated despite continuing to challenge on three fronts in an extremely congested schedule.

“Of course, we know that Buriram are always fighting on all fronts and they’re always in the latter stages of the competition,” he said.

“I’m sure the whole of Thailand doesn’t expect anything but a Buriram United win, but in these games anything can happen if you prepare well, if you take care of the players properly and if you have the right information.

“Luckily, I have had the benefit of working there for three years, so my understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the squad are valuable. They play with a clear philosophy and identify which has remained similar since I first joined the club so hopefully this information will be helpful for us.”

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As he plots an upset, Holland insists that the has belief in the players he inherited after two changes of head coach since the start of the year.

“In Thailand, the majority of coaches – and I don’t mean this disrespectfully – consistently rely on foreign players to change the game,” said Holland. “They expect foreign players to come up with the goods all the time.

“I work in Thailand with a squad of 25, with just three foreign players. You have to believe in the Thai players. I believe we have strong players in each department. One of them is the captain, Wichitchai Chauyseenual – a terrific player on and off the ball as people may have seen from the last game. Wonderfully balanced, understands the game – how can you not trust players of this quality?”

Holland had not been with Nongbua for a long time when he was hit with the huge blow of losing one his biggest signings of the recent transfer window. Brazilian striker Maranhao had played for Port FC and Sukhothai and after a spell in South Korea didn’t work out, he found himself back in Thailand. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken leg on his debut for the club and is out for the season.

“He (Maranhao) was good in training and looked sharp even though he hadn’t played too much in Korea,” said Holland. “He integrated himself well and he started well. I believe he was going to get a goal against Rayong but was on the end of a horrific tackle which wasn’t even cautioned. It ends up with him breaking his leg, his season is finished and you can’t replace him.

“Sometimes, you just have to get on with it. You have to pick yourself up and deal with whatever the game throws at you but it was disappointing because he would have been a great player for us.”

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Photo credit: Nongbua Pitchaya

Bladimir Diaz is a recent addition from Colombia and, despite some challenges in helping him adapt to Thai football, Holland has high hopes for him.

“Diaz came in from a team called Atlas in El Salvador,” he said. “He was top scorer in the league and had spent a number of years there. The integration over the first 7-10 days was a bit complex. He had to learn a little bit how to play with the Thai players as the style was very different but he has done that now. He has made some fantastic relationships with some Thai players in the squad, albeit through Google translate.

“He’s a little bit unorthodox, but he understands the game, and he has a desire to win. I think it will be a matter of time before the shows his real quality in Thailand.”

Another key player is at the other end of the pitch, with Singapore international goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud the man between the sticks. Holland has been impressed with the professionalism of the second Singapore keeper he has worked with – having been assistant head coach at Army United with Hassan Sunny also at the club.

“He is a top goalkeeper,” said Holland. “He prepares himself very well, he looks after himself physically. He’s a top professional and knows what it takes to do the right things. He has made some big saves for us and is important to the team.

“He’s got great feet and is very comfortable on the ball. He’s also very experienced, having played for his national team 40 or 50 times.”

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Photo credit: Nongbua Pitchaya

The choice of venue for such a prestigious fixture has disappointed many. The 72ndAnniversary Stadium is a difficult place to get to at the best of times but in traffic-choked rush hour on a Wednesday evening, the outskirts of Bangkok are a long way from the northeast region that both sides hail from.

“I didn’t really think about the game being played in this region [the northeast], but one thing for sure is that it would have put fans in the stand if it was played around here – possibly at Korat, in a nice big stadium,” said Holland.

“I’m not overly sure if that will be the case in Bangkok. Buriram fans need to travel, our fans need to travel. There are obviously reasons why people that run the cups have decided to play in these stadiums. I personally felt that even in Bangkok, there were one or two better options, but I’m not fully aware of whether or not they were available.”

Whatever the venue, the odds are firmly stacked against Nongbua but if Holland’s inside knowledge of the opponents can be used to good effect, we could just have an upset on our hands.

Port brush aside Muang Thong challenge as title bid gets back on track

Port FC cruised to a 2-0 victory over Muang Thong United and quashed any hopes that the Kirins might pull off a miracle and win the Thai League (T1) title.

As the Top Five sides were dropping points with reckless abandon, Muang Thong’s 22 points from eight games had taken them from the relegation zone to within touching distance of the top.

However, this defeat kills off their unlikely challenge, while Samut Prakan City’s loss at home to Chiang Rai United confirmed the end of their T1 hopes.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 23.

  1. Port put brakes on Muang Thong

Form coming into this match suggested that this could be a very tight game between two well-matched sides. In reality, it turned out to be a straightforward victory for Port even if it took until the 89th minute for Josimar’s clinching goal to give the match a scoreline that reflected the balance of play.

Port played with aggression and intensity, full of menace on the counter attack, while Muang Thong were surprisingly flat and lacking in creativity. The Kirins may have been knocking on the door of the Top Five before the match but they ended it 11 points off top spot, while Port FC stayed in touch with leaders Buriram.

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Photo credit: Port FC

It took an hour for Sumanya Purisai to make the breakthrough, but despite tactical changes from head coach Alexandre Gama, Muang Thong never built up a head of steam and repeatedly found Elias Dolah a formidable barrier in the heart of the Port defence.

The energy of Nitipong Selanon on the right flank kept the visitors on the back foot and there were also fine performances from Bodin Phala and Martin Steuble. With the managers of the Thailand and Philippines national sides looking on, they chose a good time to impress.

For Port fans, however, the main thing was to see their recent dominance over Muang Thong continue. Their T1 record over the past three years now reads W4 D1 L1 and this was their first home win over the Kirins in 10 years.

  1. Samut Prakan’s slump continues

Samut Prakan City’s fine season is in danger of finishing ignominiously as they were once again taken apart at their own stadium on Sunday. Chiang Rai United recovered from a couple of disappointing results to defeat the Sea Fang 3-0 and remain just one point behind leaders Buriram United.

The decision to recall Ekanit Panya from his loan at Chiang Mai was again vindicated as he smashed home the opener before William Henrique added a second.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

The current malaise at Samut Prakan was summed up by Chiang Rai’s third. Kim Ho-yeong dallied in possession on the halfway line and was robbed by William. The Brazilian ran clear before finishing with a sublime chip over Kampol Pathomattakul.

Thet makes it four defeats in a row for Samut Prakan, conceding 15 goals in that time. They next face two away fixtures against clubs fighting for their lives, so things aren’t about to get any easier. Meanwhile, Chiang Rai’s title challenge stays on course with seven games remaining.

  1. Trat fall in mud bath farce

Playing during rainy season in Thailand poses a number of challenges. Sudden and intense storms can render a pitch unplayable in a matter of minutes and fans can see their plans disrupted by the resulting traffic chaos. It is, however, the duty of the league to ensure that matches at this level are played on surfaces that allow for a fair contest, with due consideration for the safety of the players.

On Sunday, the league again failed in this duty, just two weeks after Chonburi and Bangkok United played out a match on a waterlogged pitch. Trat’s match at home to Buriram United was delayed as the officials hoped for the rain to ease off and for the pitch to drain reduce surface water levels.

In many countries, referees use the bounce test as one way to determine if a game can go ahead. They would not have got much bounce on many areas of this pitch as the whistle blew for kickoff in this one.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

With six minutes remaining of a mud wrestle, Buriram’s quickly taken free kick created the chance for Nacer Barazite to once again make a decisive contribution from the bench and score the game’s only goal. Trat – still smarting from defeat to the same opponents in the FA Cup on Wednesday – complained bitterly that the free kick had been allowed to be taken in this manner, but they would have been better off staying focused on the ball.

The hosts’ temporary refusal to continue was an embarrassing throwback to the days when such throwing of toys from prams was more commonplace and Bireme Diouf’s manhandling of the referee surely merits a suspension.

The referee was not wrong to allow the goal, but he or whoever made the final decision was wrong to allow the game to be played in the first place.