Tall order for dejected Thailand as they take on in-form Vietnam

Only a win will do when Thailand face Vietnam on Matchday Five of their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Thursday’s limp defeat in Malaysia leaves them in the kind of win-or-bust scenario they would have wanted to avoid against arguably the strongest side in a very evenly matched Group G.

All of the positivity generated by a landmark win over UAE last month evaporated in 90 painful minutes in Kuala Lumpur and head coach Akira Nishino must turn things around very quickly or Thailand can forget about reaching the next stage of qualifying.

Here are three things to look out for when Thailand play Vietnam in Hanoi.

  1. Focus on the defence 

Nishino has failed to rid Thailand of the defensive lapses that may ultimately prove so costly. While there were many issues with the performance against Malaysia, the defending for the two goals was dismal.

Brendan Gan was surrounded by Thai players when he still found enough space to slot home the equaliser. A dreadfully misguided attempt to play the offside trap led to the second, though we shouldn’t ignore the quality of Gan’s pass and Sumareh’s excellent finish.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

You can’t help feeling that making three changes to the defence – only one of them necessary – was not helpful. Tanaboon Kesarat’s defending has been understandably criticised but was the Bukit Jalil the right place to throw Elias Dolah in for his first start in place of someone with 50 caps?

More confusing was the decision to play Tristan Do ahead of Nitipong Selanon. Nitipong has been in the form of his life and was outstanding against the UAE. Do, meanwhile, has suffered several injury setbacks over a generally disappointing season. Do’s limited match fitness was sometimes evident on Thursday, though the errors that led to the goals were more the result of a collective failure as a unit rather than individual blunders.

The return of Theerathon Bunmathan at left-back will be most welcome but there are decisions to be made at centre-back and right-back.

  1. Three’s a crowd 

The decision to play three diminutive attacking midfielders looked great on paper on Thursday and it was all going to plan when two of them combined for an early opening goal. Unfortunately, the talented trio of Chanathip Songkrasin, Supachok Sarachat and Ekanit Panya could not keep Malaysia on the back foot and it began to look a misguided tactic.

It is highly unlikely that Nishino will start all three again, with reinforcements in a deeper midfield role more likely. The absence of Thitipan Puangchan is keenly felt but Sasalak Haiprakhon could be a good option for his energy and ability to play in different positions. There is also the option of pushing Tanaboon into the midfield anchor role, freeing Sarach Yooyen to drive forward when possible.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Chanathip is a certain starter but either Supachok or Ekanit is likely to remain on the bench in an attempt to compete more aggressively in midfield.

Having said that, Nishino has surprised everyone several times with his team selections so there may be more unexpected moves on the cards. There are plenty of options in midfield but Nishino must get the balance right against a very strong opponent.

  1. A chance to restore some pride

Much has changed since the last time Thailand played a competitive fixture in Vietnam. Four years ago, the War Elephants were imperious and saw off their opponents with contemptuous ease. But this came before the dramatic rise of many of Vietnam’s young talents and the hosts will this time go into the match as slight favourites.

Thailand were undoubtedly the top side in Southeast Asia from 2014 to 2018, but the balance of power has shifted in the past 18 months, with the Vietnamese lifting the AFF Suzuki Cup before bettering Thailand’s performance in the 2019 Asian Cup.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

The two sides have contested two fiercely competitive matches this year, with just one (freakish) goal scored. Vietnam’s victory in the King’s Cup clash came courtesy of an added time goalkeeping howler but there was little between the teams. Vietnam then came away with the goalless draw they seemed to be playing for when they visited Bangkok in the first World Cup qualifier in September.

Both teams have been guilty of some reckless physical challenges, with lenient refereeing sparing players on both sides more severe punishment. Some of the play acting has also been unedifying to watch, as the bad feeling between the two sides has often come to a head.

If Thailand want to reverse the momentum that Vietnam have built up and reclaim their throne as the best side in the region, they will have to match their opponents’ aggression and ensure they keep their heads in the heat of what may well be another spiteful encounter.

Thailand start crucial double header with tough test against resurgent Malaysia

Thailand’s clash with Malaysia on Thursday is an excellent opportunity to take three points that would significantly strengthen their hopes of proceeding to the final stage of 2022 World Cup qualifying.

Seven points from three matches sees them joint top of Group G, alongside Vietnam. Victory in Malaysia would set them up nicely for a tough game in Vietnam next week.

But the Harimau Malaya have been making significant progress under Tan Cheng Hoe. In addition to a dramatic win in Indonesia, they have suffered narrow defeats at home to UAE and away to Vietnam. This is a stark contrast to their 2018 campaign, which saw humiliating losses against the UAE and Palestine.

Nevertheless, the War Elephants also look a better side than the one that lost to Malaysia on away goals in the semifinal of the AFF Cup last year.

Here are three things to look out for in the Malaysia Vs Thailand match.

  1. What changes to a winning team?

Thailand’s 2-1 victory over UAE on Matchday Three was one of the national side’s finest performances in recent years. There was relentless energy, attacking flair and mental toughness when they quickly recovered from the blow of conceding a completely undeserved equaliser.

Head coach Akira Nishino has some tough decisions to make as he welcomes back some players who missed out through injury last month. Talisman Chanathip Songkrasin did not make the UAE game but was hardly missed as the likes of Ekanit Panya and Supachok Sarachat drove at the UAE defence in the manner of the Consadole Sapporo playmaker.

It would seem harsh to leave out either of the younger players so Nishino might look to accommodate all three, as he did in the 3-0 win in Indonesia in September. This could well mean switching Sasalak Haiprakhon to left-back, with Theerathon Bunmathan suspended.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

There is also a decision to be made at right-back, with Tristan Do back in the fold. Do had won his place back after being out of favour under Milovan Rajevac. However, when the Bangkok United man was nursing an injury last month, Port FC’s Nitipong Selanon gave two excellent performances, first in the friendly against Congo and then in the victory over UAE.

In the centre of defence, Manuel Bihr’s place looks secure but with Pansa Hemviboon fit again and the likes of Elias Dolah pushing for a start, Nishino must decide whether or not to persist with Tanaboon Kesarat.

Changing a winning team is not always a good idea but it seems unthinkable that a fit Chanathip will not start. Otherwise, Nishino may decide to leave things as they were and as far as availability allows.

  1. Stay positive 

The win over the UAE was a demonstration of why Thailand are at their best when their attackers are encouraged to express themselves and put the opposition on the back foot. While it will be difficult in the hostile atmosphere at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, there is no reason why Thailand should go there with a different approach.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

While Japan-based Chanathip, Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon were missing, the Thais performed dismally at the same venue in 2018 and were fortunate to escape with a 0-0 draw. With Ekanit’s emergence and Supachok’s development, along with the return of two of the aforementioned players, Nishino has a much wider range of attacking options at his disposal and should play to the squad’s strengths.

Malaysia will fancy their chances in front of their home fans but, man-for-man, Thailand still have the edge in terms of quality. If Nishino again lets the attackers off the leash, the War Elephants will have a better chance of consolidating their position at the top of Group G.

  1. Thais must stop Safawi 

Malaysia’s squad contains several talented players in their early twenties, which bodes well for the future. The impressive performances of Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in their first participation in the AFC Champions League this year gave many of them the opportunity to play at a higher level and they did not disappoint.

The player Thailand should watch out for most is Safawi Rasid, who was the highest scoring Malaysian in the 2019 Malaysia Super League season. The 22-year-old has a range of skills that make him an extremely dangerous opponent and the Thais will have to ensure they don’t allow him to cut in from the right to unleash a thunderbolt shot with his deadly left foot.

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Photo credit: Football Association of Malaysia

In last week’s friendly against Tajikistan, Safawi’s wonder goal settled the game, just the latest in a growing list of spectacular strikes. He scored one of the best goals of this year’s AFC Champions League when his signature move came off. He cut in from the right and, despite intense pressure from a Shandong Luneng defender, he smashed in a curling shot from 25 yards that landed in the top corner.

Thailand will not be complacent given Malaysia’s recent form and they should also be well aware of the dangers posed by the likes of Syafiq Ahmad and Mohamadou Sumareh. But they should be most concerned about Safawi’s ability to create something from nothing and prepare accordingly.

Port hope to end a long wait as Ratchaburi stand in their way

Port FC aim to put an end to a 10-year wait when they take on Ratchaburi in Saturday’s Thai FA Cup final.

A decade has passed since the Klong Toey side won the trophy and nine years since their last major domestic honour – the 2010 League Cup.

Much has changed in the Thai football landscape since then but the Port Lions are finally among the top sides again.

Ratchaburi may lack the rich history of Port but they should not be underestimated, having given Port two very tough battles in league action this year.

Here are three things to look out for in the 2019 FA Cup final.

  1. Port’s wide boys

A key element of Port’s attacking play this year has been the two wingers, supported by the energy of two dynamic full-backs. Bodin Phala has been outstanding for much of the year, while Pakorn Prempak, though less consistent, can be a menace on his day. At right-back, the relentless Nitipong Selanon has really excelled, while left-back Kevin Deeromram’s injury-plagued year can end on a high.

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Photo credit: Port FC

There is creativity, pace and energy on the flanks, while Bodin in particular offers a goal threat with a thunderbolt strike. Much of Port’s tempo will be dictated in midfield and Go Seul-ki will play a key role in the centre, while Sergio Suarez will, as usual, be a focal point of the attacking play.

However, the performances of the Port wide men may go a long way to determining who ends the year with a trophy.

  1. Dragons’ French connection

Yannick Boli, Lossemy Karaboue and Steeven Langil all share a similar footballing education, having come through the French system that has produced so much top talent in the past 40 years.

Striker Boli and attacking midfielders Karaboue and Langil have been among Ratchaburi’s top performers this year, with Boli announcing himself on the Thai stage by scoring a hat-trick on his debut.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

Boli – nephew of former France international Basile – was once part of the Paris St-Germain youth system, while Karaboue’s youth career was spent at Lyon. Langil’s first steps in French football came at less celebrated Nimes, but he has arguably been the most impressive of the three this year.

It has been an up-and-down season for the club but Boli’s finishing, Langil’s flair and Karaboue’s energy have all been features of the best moments for the Dragons.

Up against a Port squad that has the edge in terms of quality and depth, Ratchaburi’s French connection will have to be at their best if the Dragons are the lift their first ever FA Cup.

  1. A night for cool heads

Both of the fixtures between Port FC and Ratchaburi this year were keenly fought as only a Dragan Boskovic penalty separated the sides at the PAT Stadium before a 1-1 draw at the Mitr Phol in the return fixture. The first match was a bad-tempered affair marred by VAR controversies, while a poor refereeing performance was also a feature of the second game.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Both teams will be desperate for a landmark trophy win, so this will be a match in which cool heads are vital. A loss of discipline could be the difference between success and failure with the stakes so high.

It has to be hoped that matters on the pitch will be decided by the team that plays the best football and deserves the victory and subsequent celebrations. However, emotions will be running high on Saturday and the team that stays calm under pressure may well have the edge.

Buriram just three points from glory while Chiang Rai hope for a miracle

Buriram United hope to wrap up their sixth Thai League (T1) title in seven years when they visit relegated Chiang Mai on Saturday.

It has been a relatively poor season for the champions but the failure of their rivals to take their best opportunity in years means it looks like we will see the same old story.

Chiang Rai United will cling on to the hope that Chiang Mai can take at least a point from Buriram, allowing the Beetles to lift their first T1 crown with victory at Suphanburi.

At the bottom end of the table, what was expected to be a dramatic finish has been obscured by the uncertainty over PTT Rayong’s future. If PTT drop out of T1 for financial reasons, Suphanburi, Nakhon Ratchasima and Sukhothai should all survive.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 30.

  1. Chiang Mai can go down with a bang

The close relationship between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Utd has been one of the more unedifying features of the 2019 season. Chiang Mai would have been far less competitive without their several loan signings from the Beetles, including the explosive talents of Ekanit Panya in the first half of the year.

The Lanna Tigers move to Chiang Rai when their home ground was closed for renovations made things uncomfortably closer.

By fielding a weakened XI for the past three matches, it seemed apparent that Chiang Mai did not want another season in T1, perhaps because another team with close links – BG Pathum United – had been promoted back to the top tier.

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Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC

With relegation now confirmed, Chiang Mai are now in a position to show their gratitude for all those loan deals and for a temporary stay at the Singha Stadium. Beating or drawing with Buriram may look unlikely but, back at their home ground, they have a fighting chance. Bangkok United, Muang Thong United and Samut Prakan City – all in the current Top Six – could only take a point on their visits north.

Top striker Eliandro has been left on the bench for the last three fixtures but he gave a reminder of his capabilities when he came on to score twice in 15 minutes in last week’s win at PTT Rayong.

Buriram’s inconsistency is demonstrated by the fact that they have yet to win four T1 matches in succession this year. They are currently on a run of three, so to make sure of yet another title, they will have to make it to four.

  1. PTT shadow looms large over Swatcats shootout with Sukhothai 

It had been shaping up to be a dramatic winner-takes-all clash, as Nakhon Ratchasima prepared to host Sukhothai in match that could have ended with one or neither relegated.

A draw would suit both were Suphanburi to be beaten by Chiang Rai Utd, while a Nakhon Ratchasima win would condemn Sukhothai. A Suphanburi victory combined with three points for Sukhothai would send the Swatcats down.

With confirmation of PTT’s fate unlikely to be confirmed until next week, this remains the case for now but the poor timing of the news from PTT has cast a shadow over the relegation battle. The three sides still involved now know that they might already be safe regardless of what happens this weekend.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

Based on what has been communicated, Nakhon Ratchasima and Sukhothai have to go into Saturday’s fixture aiming to win. Should news filter through that Chiang Rai are winning comfortably at Suphanburi, we may see a drop off in the space if the score is level in the northeast.

It is a complicated scenario, further complicated by the rumours over PTT’s future. However, this is a battle for survival, even if survival is decided retrospectively.

  1. Chiang Rai hoping for a miracle 

A pre-season that saw the departure of new head coach Jose Borges suggested that all was not well in Chiang Rai and that this might be a tough year, following consecutive Top Five finishes.

On the contrary, under Ailton Silva the Beetles have come closer to T1 glory than ever, though they have not managed to replicate the cup success of the last two years.

Consistency of team selection and relatively few issues with injuries have been key to keeping Chiang Rai in the title race. They have depended heavily on the Brazilian pair of William Henrique and Bill in attack, while benefiting from Ekanit’s return and the solidity of Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul in midfield.

There is a good overall balance to the team and the healthy blend of youth and experience that is often found in title contenders.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Unfortunately, they have blown opportunities to stay in control of their destiny this year but with one match remaining, they are still in with a chance. They have to win at Suphanburi and hope for their notherrn neighbours Chiang Mai to pull off an upset against Buriram.

The War Elephant have their own agenda as they need a victory to guarantee survival, so the Beetles won’t get it all their own way. But the visitors may benefit from the rumours about PTT’s possible withdrawal from the league – something that would probably ensure that Suphanbuti stay up.

Few expect the final day to end with a big surprise but it would be quite a story if the two teams from the north combined to produce a new T1 champion.

Port aim to make history while Buriram target yet another title

Port FC face a defining moment on Sunday when they take on Buriram United in a match that could decide the destiny of this year’s Thai League (T1) title.

With Buriram aiming for a sixth title in seven years, Port have an opportunity to end a duopoly (with Muang Thong United) that has lasted over 10 years.

Chiang Rai United also have a strong chance and a win for them, combined with a Port win or a draw in Buriram, would leave them one victory away from becoming champions.

At the other end of the table, five clubs are battling it out to avoid relegation and this week we will surely see at least one team confirmed for the drop.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 29.

  1. Port’s moment of truth

It has been a strange old season for Port FC’s followers. The Port Lions’ strong start to the year marked them down as serious title contenders.

However, a 3-1 home defeat to Buriram in June precipitated a collapse that saw them take just two points from six matches. In any other season, a similar run would have seen their rivals move out of sight.

But this has been a season like no other, with Buriram struggling and Bangkok United failing to reach the heights of the previous three years. Muang Thong United’s shocking start ensured their recovery came too late and, almost by default, Port could lift the title by beating Buriram on Sunday and then beating Samut Prakan City at home.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Port’s form against fellow Top Six sides has been poor, however. While they have yet again put Muang Thong to the sword, they have taken just two points from six matches against the other four.

To make history, Port will need everything to go their way on Sunday, but the absence of influential midfielder Go Seul-ki – on loan from Buriram – is a blow.

The visitors have won their last three T1 matches, scoring nine goals without conceding, so they are in a good place form-wise. The big question is whether or not they can keep their heads in the type of match Buriram have been winning for years.

  1. All eyes on Chiang Rai’s Ekanit 

Thailand hailed a new hero on Tuesday after 19-year-old Ekanit Panya put in a match-winning performance as the War Elephants defeated the UAE 2-1 in World Cup qualifying.

The attacking midfielder made the first goal and scored the second in an eye-catching display that has apparently brought him to the attention of Japanese clubs.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Chiang Rai United will hope that he has enough energy left to keep their title bid on track in a match at home to Prachuap FC. The Beetles lost control of their own fate with a draw at PTT Rayong last time out, but a win here would ensure they still have a chance and if Buriram drop points, they will be back in the driving seat.

On paper, it looks straightforward against a side with nothing to play for. But the League Cup winners are on a seven-match unbeaten run, conceding just three goals in that spell.

A game-changer like Ekanit may be what is required to unlock the organised Prachuap defence and keep Chiang Rai United’s title dream alive.

  1. Swatcats face battle to survive 

Since beating Chainat 2-1 in June, Nakhon Ratchasima have won just two T1 matches, a slump that sees them sitting just four points above the Hornbills going into Sunday’s return match.

The good news for the Swatcats is that Chainat’s form has also been miserable, winning just one of the last eight fixtures and losing six of them.

Nakhon Ratchasima’s plight is bad news for the fan base that makes them the second-best supported club in the league. There is vast potential in this northeastern city but the limited investment in the club has prevented it from competing with sides with far fewer supporters.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima

On the pitch, the Swatcats will be nervous about facing their relegation rivals on their home pitch, given its reputation for throwing up some surprise results in the hosts’ favour.

Chainat’s recent form may have been poor but they have lost just one of their last seven home matches. For this one, they will need to rediscover the inspiration that saw them beat Buriram United, Bangkok United and Muang Thong United in April and March.

A victory for the visitors would put them in a very strong position but there would remain the matter of a home match against fellow relegation strugglers Sukhothai next week. Depending on the outcome of other games, that could yet be a winner takes all affair.

  1. Suphanburi and Sukhothai in familiar positions

On Matchday 28, Suphanburi and Sukhothai looked set to clinch significant victories as, at home to opponents with little to play for, they both took a first-half lead.

But Prachuap fought back to earn a point at Suphanburi and Sukhothai needed an 89th-minute equaliser to rescue a 2-2 draw with Ratchaburi.

This weekend, Suphanburi travel to Samut Prakan City – a side whose unlikely title bid has long since ended – while Sukhothai host Trat, who have already clinched T1 football in 2020.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

If the War Elephant and the Firebats cannot earn victories in matches like this, they simply don’t deserve to stay up.

Suphanburi may be the fourth-best supported club in the league but they have endured a miserable time since consecutive Top Six finishes between 2013 and 2015. Meanwhile, Sukhothai have flirted with relegation in the three seasons since an impressive T1 debut year in 2016 saw them finish seventh.

On the balance of probabilities, one of these two teams is likely to go down and this weekend will go a long way to deciding which one.

Nishino’s Thailand face early test of credentials on road to Qatar

Thailand must make home advantage count as they host the UAE in Tuesday’s 2020 FIFA World Cup qualifier.

In what is likely to be an extremely tight Group G, success in the home fixtures may be key. Having dropped two points to Vietnam in last month’s clash in Bangkok, there is no margin for error against the group favourites if the Thais want to progress to the final stage of qualifying for just the third time in their history.

Without star playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin and midfield dynamo Thitiphan Puangchan, the War Elephants are missing two of their most influential players. Head coach Akira Nishino must get the balance right if Thailand are to emerge from this match in a strong position to qualify.

Here are three things to look out for in Tuesday’s Thailand Vs UAE fixture.

  1. Start for Suphanat?

 It would be a brave but positive move if Nishino were to give 17-year-old Suphanat Mueanta a start in attack alongside Teerasil Dangda.

Thailand have struggled to score goals this year, netting just seven times in 11 matches – three of those coming against a poor Indonesia side. Teerasil did miss several of those games through injury but playing the veteran up front on his own is a predictable move that the UAE will be ready for.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Suphanat’s movement and trickery would provide a very different option, as Congo found out when he tormented them in the second half of Thursday’s friendly. The Buriram United striker has consistently risen to the big occasion despite his tender years, including becoming the youngest ever scorer in the AFC Champions League when he was still 16.

This is a high stakes fixture and maybe a gamble is necessary to secure the three points that would put the Thais in a strong position.

  1. Dealing with Ali and Omar 

Without Omar Abdulrahman at this year’s Asian Cup, the UAE looked a distinctly average side. Thailand held them to a 1-1 draw when they played them in that tournament, and the countries also drew in Bangkok when they met in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

But Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout took the Thais apart when they met in 2016 and these will be the two players that the Thailand defence will have to stop.

In the UAE’s 5-0 victory over Indonesia on Thursday, Mabkhout struck a hat-trick to become the country’s all-time leading scorer. At 29 years old, the Al Jazira striker is at the peak of his powers and his deadly finishing prowess means he must be very carefully tracked.

Mabkhout scored three times in the two 2018 qualifiers against the Thais, striking twice in the UAE’s 3-1 home win and netting in added-time in Bangkok to deny Thailand what would have been their only victory of the final stage of qualifying. The War Elephants’ nemesis scored against them once again in this year’s Asian Cup.

2016 Asian Player of the Year Abdulrahman has yet to hit full fitness following the injury that kept him out of the Asian Cup and he started Thursday’s match on the bench. But the playmaker’s magical skills can cut open a defence at any moment and, if he starts, Thailand will have to try and limit his space to cut off the supply to Mabkhout.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Thailand’s central defence will certainly be tested and this is an area of continued uncertainty. Defensive midfielder Tanaboon Kesarat was used at centre-back against Congo but his positional sense and concentration are often suspect. Manuel Bihr is the one player who looks certain to start, with Pansa Hemviboon, Adisorn Promrak and Elias Dolah the other options.

Whoever is selected will have their work cut out against two players who have a history of putting Thailand to the sword.

  1. A test of self-belief

Thailand’s recent history in matches of this nature does not instill confidence. Facing countries with significantly higher FIFA rankings in important matches do not usually end in victory. The draw with the UAE at the Asian Cup was crucial for Thailand but made little difference to a UAE team that had already qualified for the last 16.

Even though the Thais topped a group that included Iraq in the first group stage of the 2018 qualifiers, they were outplayed for an hour in Bangkok before a late comeback earned a 2-2 draw.

The two times that Thailand have made it past this stage, they have flopped spectacularly against superior opponents, failing to win any of the 18 matches in the final round of AFC qualification.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

There seems to be an inferiority complex when the Thais take on Asia’s better sides and much of it seems to come down to mentality. They just don’t expect to win games like this and the number of late goals they concede underlines their fragility.

The Round of 16 clash against China in the Asian Cup was a fine example. Leading 1-0 at half-time, the Thais looked well set to reach the quarter-finals, but lost their discipline and ultimately the game as confidence deserted them.

One of Nishino’s biggest challenges will be to transform this state of mind to help Thailand finally look as if they may belong among Asia’s Top 12 teams. A victory in this match would be a huge statement. 

It’s too tight to call at top and bottom as Thai League heads for thrilling finale

It’s all or nothing for both Port FC and Chainat when they meet on Thai League (T1) Matchday 28.

Port must win to ensure they do not drop further behind the Top Two, while Chainat need three points to avoid slipping a potential four points from safety.

There are several other big games at both ends of the table as the 2019 T1 season draws to a close.

Here are five things to look out for on T1 Matchday 28.

  1. Josimar eyes fairytale ending

Josimar Rodrigues spent the first half of the year with Police Tero in T2 and cannot have imagined that he might end the year with a T1 title.

Josimar’s return to Port FC – where he spent the 2017 season – was seen as gamble as it meant that Dragan Boskovic would have to move on. There was then the drama of Rolando Blackburn’s signing and the possibility that Josimar would not form part of the T1 squad after all.

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Photo credit: Port FC

In the end, Port opted to sideline centre-back David Rochela and keep Josimar. The Brazilian has risen to the challenge in the last few games in particular, while Blackburn has largely been left on the bench. Josimar’s brace against Nakhon Ratchasima on Friday took Port to within two points of joint leaders Buriram United and Chiang Rai United. A victory over Chainat on Wednesday would set up a potential title decider in Buriram on October 20th.

But Chainat have their own needs to take care of as they sit second from bottom. With rivals Sukhothai and Suphanburi playing in more winnable home fixtures, the Hornbills risk falling further behind both if they cannot beat the title challengers.

Port are the league’s form team, with six wins in the last eight, and they have hit their stride at the perfect time. Another victory in this fixture would ensure that they keep the pressure on Buriram and Chiang Rai ahead of the final two games. In the unlikely event that the joint leaders both lose, Port could even end the week at the top of the table.

  1. Isaan derby with much at stake

While Nakhon Ratchasima’s position is not as precarious as Chainat’s, they could be under a lot of pressure by the end of the evening if they fail to take anything from the Isaan derby at home to Buriram. The high of the recent 4-1 win over Samut Prakan City gave way to grim reality on Friday as they were soundly beaten at Port.

The Swatcats have an extremely challenging run-in and can’t afford to play tactically for a draw and keep something in reserve for the two fixtures to come. Next up are relegation rivals Chainat and Sukhothai, so the reality is that three straight losses against highly motivated sides may put them in T2.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

Remarkably, stuttering Buriram are leaders of T1 but by the most precarious of margins. While they lead Chiang Rai on goal difference, if the two sides were to end the season level on points, the Beetles would take the title through the head-to-head record.

Buriram are enduring a tough spell, losing in both cups to sides in the bottom half of T1, while hanging on to top spot by their fingertips despite unimpressive league form.

There is plenty at stake when these northeastern neighbours meet and if there is a winner, the losing side could be on the verge of losing their title or losing their place in the top tier.

  1. Chiang Rai must handle pressure

It is tough to lead from the front and the two times Chiang Rai United have held the T1 lead this season, they have lost it in the very next game. When they beat Buriram 4-0 at the end of July, they rose to top spot but followed it up with a fortuitous draw at home to Ratchaburi.

A 3-1 win at Trat two weeks ago again saw them go clear at the top, with Buriram losing at Muang Thong. But Chiang Rai then failed to maintain their two-point advantage by drawing 1-1 at Bangkok United.

Three wins from the final three matches hand the title to Chiang Rai and this run begins with a match at a PTT Rayong side that are almost safe from relegation. PTT were poor in a 3-0 loss to Chonburi on Sunday and may be looking ahead to 2020 after more or less securing their T1 berth for another year.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

PTT have had a strange season swapping relegation form in the early stages for a run of six wins in eight in the middle before taking just one win from the last eight to leave them in 11thplace. Thursday’s visitors can be encouraged by their opponents’ poor recent form but should be wary of a team that has taken four points from Port and drawn twice with Muang Thong.

Buriram claimed a 1-0 win at PTT on their visit and Chiang Rai must match their title rivals to ensure that their fate stays in their hands.

  1. Suphanburi’s chance to bring another side back to earth

When Ratchaburi visited Suphanburi two weeks ago, they had just beaten Buriram in the FA Cup semifinal. Their celebrations may have lasted a few days but by the fourth minute they were 2-0 down in T1 action. The match ended 3-0 to the War Elephant – a vital victory in their battle against relegation.

On Wedneday, Prachuap FC visit, four days on from landing their first major trophy with a win over Buriram in the League Cup final. It took 120 minutes and penalty kicks so there was a physical and emotional cost to pay.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

It may be the perfect time for Suphanburi to be hosting the Killer Wasps as, like Ratchaburi, they may still be basking in the glory of their cup triumph when the game kicks off. Prachuap’s recent form has taken them seven points clear of the relegation zone so they should be in no danger of being sucked into the battle to avoid the drop.

Cleiton Silva and Dellatorre were both in fine form against Ratchaburi and Suphanburi will again look to them to provide the goals to claim a vital three points.

  1. Firebats set for thrilling finale

Sukhothai have three matches to save their season, starting with a home match against Ratchaburi. A team that has won just four games all season would normally have been relegated by this stage but an incredible 15 draws has kept their points total sufficient to remain in with a chance of survival.

Their final three fixtures offer reasonable prospects of the victories that have been eluding them. All four wins this season have been at home and Trat follow the Dragons to the Thung Talay Luang Stadium. Both of these opponents are all but safe and may not offer the kind of resistance that others might.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

Victories in these two home matches could set up a huge game at Nakhon Ratchasima on the final day of the season. With the Swatcats currently four points above the Firebats, they need to win their next two matches to shake them off, assuming Sukhothai win both of theirs.

With Philip Roller, Yannick Boli and Lossemy Karaboue all suspended, the Dragons are missing three of their best players. Sukhothai striker Irvin Herrera has failed to make much of an impact since his arrival in mid-season and perhaps it is time for him prove that he – like his countryman Nelson Bonilla – can become a hero for the club.

Prachuap target first ever cup success as Buriram target first part of a double

Prachuap FC are aiming to make history when they take on Buriram United in Saturday’s Thai League Cup final.

The Killer Wasps battled their way up through the lower tiers before finishing an impressive 6th in their first T1 season in 2018. Having effectively consolidated their position in the top tier this year, they are now looking for their first major honour.

Buriram will need to put their indifferent league form behind them if they are to deny the underdogs a famous win.

Meanwhile in T1 action, Port FC hope to keep their title hopes alive at home to Nakhon Ratchasima, while Chonburi will look to banish the slight threat of relegation when they host PTT Rayong on Sunday.

Here are three things to look out for in Thai football this weekend.

  1. Prachuap target another SCG triumph 

As Prachuap bid to upset the odds in Saturday’s League Cup final, they can perhaps take inspiration from their last two visits to the SCG Stadium. Both ended in victory against Muang Thong United, while opponents Buriram’s suffered a 3-1 defeat in their most recent trip.

Omens aside, Prachuap come into the game on the back of a six-match unbeaten run that has taken them away from relegation danger. They have not conceded in the last four games and have lost just two goals in that six-match stretch.

However, they will be weakened by the likely unavailability of no fewer than four Buriram United loan players. The biggest losses are regular goalkeeper Kwanchai Suklom and midfield schemer Chitpanya Tisud.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Buriram will have to raise their game to ensure that they avoid another cup upset, having recently lost to Ratchaburi in the FA Cup semifinal. Supachok Sarachat came to their rescue in last weekend’s home win over Chainat and in such a difficult year, they would settle for a repeat.

A transitional season may yet end in a league and cup double for the champions, which would seem excessive reward for a side whose standards have fallen way below what we have come to expect. But Buriram often find a way to win and few would bet against them taking another trophy on Saturday.

  1. Port wary of resurgent Swatcats 

The visit of Nakhon Ratchasima to Port FC on Friday evening has taken on a very different complexion since the Swatcats’ weekend heroics gave the club a huge boost following months of doom and gloom.

Head coach Chalermwut Sa-ngapol’s dramatic debut saw his team come from behind to win 4-1, scoring three times in the final five minutes. While this result may go a long way to securing another season in T1, they are not safe yet and will want to seal their place in the top tier with a victory here. Fixtures against Buriram and relegation strugglers Sukhothai and Chainat are yet to come so three points would be a huge relief.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

However, Port FC have their own aspirations as a victory would take them to within two points of joint leaders Buriram and Chiang Rai United ahead of the final three matches of the season. Since a mid-season slump, Port have taken 16 points from seven games to move back into contention as their rivals falter.

When they tried to play this match two weeks ago, a storm stopped the action just four minutes in. Both sides will be hoping for less extreme conditions as they approach a match that could be hugely significant.

  1. Chonburi aim to settle nerves 

With a six-point cushion, it would take a very unlikely sequence of results for Chonburi to be relegated. However, three defeats in the last four have them looking slightly nervously over their shoulders as we reach the final stages of the season.

There was relief last weekend as three of the bottom four lost to maintain a healthy distance from the drop zone and a win here would put an end to any lingering concerns while setting the Sharks up for a positive end to another mediocre season.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

Sunday’s visitors PTT Rayong sit just one point above Chonburi and would also secure another T1 season with a victory. They are unbeaten in four T1 matches, though three of them have ended in draws.

Compared to the weekend’s two headline matches, this is certainly no more than a support act but we will see two clubs that wish to end their seasons on a high to keep their fans on board for 2020.

Chiang Rai Utd set to gain from Bangkok United pain

Chiang Rai United have a great opportunity to consolidate their position at the top of the Thai League (T1) when they face demoralised Bangkok United on Matchday 27.

The fixture in Bangkok looked like the trickiest of the Beetles’ run-in, but Bangkok United’s gut-wrenching FA Cup final defeat to Port FC on penalties on Wednesday will surely boost the league leaders’ chances.

In the relegation zone, Suphanburi need to defeat buoyant Ratchaburi to keep their survival hopes alive, while Sukhothai can pull away from Chainat again if they beat Muang Thong Utd while their rivals lose at Buriram United.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 27.

  1. Chiang Rai’s perfect chance to stay ahead 

When Chiang Rai took over at the top of T1 last week, it looked like the lead might last just one week, with the Beetles set to travel for a tough match at Bangkok United, while second-placed Buriram United hosted relegation candidates Chainat.

FA Cup defeats for both Bangkok United and Buriram in midweek completely change the dynamic and Chiang Rai are now clear favourites to win against a team that have nothing but pride left to play for after a dismal campaign.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Many people’s favourites for the title at the beginning of the year, Bangkok United now have a fight to finish in the Top Five. In Wednesday’s match against Port FC, the absence of top scorer Nelson Bonilla was keenly felt as they struggled in the final third.

For a team that has become accustomed to near misses, this was yet another devastating result to digest and Chiang Rai may well exploit the dark mood at the club by earning the win they need to keep them ahead of Buriram.

  1. Suphanburi running out of time 

In contrast to Chiang Rai, Suphanburi are facing a side high on confidence as Ratchaburi stunned Buriram on Wednesday to reach the FA Cup final. For completely different reasons, this may work in the War Elephant’s favour as the Dragons’ focus switches to the end-of-season showpiece.

Last weekend’s loss at PTT Rayong was another damaging result and only a victory will do here if Suphanburi are to maintain their place in T1 for an eighth year.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

Ratchaburi will be basking in the glory of their cup victory and, with T1 survival almost certain, they may rest some key players to keep them fresh ahead of a more important challenge.

In what has been a desperately disappointing season for Suphanburi’s star striker Cleiton Silva, it is perhaps time for the Brazilian to step up and prove that he is not a spent force.

  1. Sukhothai hopes rest on Baggio 

Things might have been looking different for Sukhothai had John Baggio not been suspended for last week’s defeat at Chainat. Instead of pulling six points clear of the Hornbills, Sukhothai ended the weekend a place above the relegation zone on goal difference only.

The energy and skill of Baggio has made him a handful for T1 defences for the past four years and he is the main reason why the Firebats remain in the top tier. He may not be a prolific scorer but his all-round game makes him a menace to any opposition.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

But Baggio will need all of his teammates to be at their best as they host a Muang Thong United side that is buzzing after their convincing victory over Buriram last week. Alexandre Gama has made such an impact at the club that they can still finish in the top three despite winning just three of their first 14 games of the season.

Muang Thong’s 10 defeats have been costly and they have lost three more matches than Sukhothai. But Sukhothai’s 15 draws have prevented them from reaching a safe position.

Firebats head coach Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok started the season very poorly at Muang Thong and quit after just five T1 games. He will hope to finish strongly and keep Sukhothai up, just as he managed to help Suphanburi beat the drop last year.

  1. Buriram must stop the rot

It has been one of the worst weeks in Buriram United’s short history. Last weekend saw them humiliated at bitter rivals Muang Thong United – a defeat that was to cost them top spot in the league. On Wednesday, Ratchaburi pulled off a big upset as they defeated the T1 champions in the FA Cup semifinal.

Despite being below par all year, Buriram can still win two trophies but they may have to string together four T1 wins for the first time this season to retain their league title. Chainat are Sunday’s visitors and they will be fighting to climb out of the relegation zone.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

The Hornbills won the reverse fixture and should not be overawed by a team that has lost much of its ability to intimidate. With Buriram centre-back Andres Tunez suspended, Chainat will target the centre of an unusually vulnerable defence.

Buriram will have to rely on their formidable attacking talents to get them back on track and to keep them breathing down Chiang Rai’s necks.

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.