Bangkok United suffer disappointment but not disaster in ACL defeat

Bangkok United’s lineup may have been significantly different from the one that took the field against JDT two years ago, but it was the same story as they exited the AFC Champions League (ACL) in Preliminary Round 2 – this time against Hanoi FC.

However, not too many comparisons should be made given the very different circumstances. In 2017, the Bangkok Angels were clear favourites and dominated the match before losing in a penalty shooutout.

This year, Hanoi FC posed a very different challenge, with the Vietnamese champions fielding a team containing many of the Vietnam side that reached the quarter-final of this year’s Asian Cup, including the mercurial Nguyen Quang Hai.

Two years ago, overcoming JDT would have been an important statement in the club’s development and the disappointment was huge. This year, progress in the ACL felt very much like a secondary aim, with the Thai League (T1) title the priority.

In the end, the home side fell to a soft late penalty, converted by Nguyen Van Quyet at a time when Bangkok United were looking stronger.

Here are three ways in which Bangkok United can learn from the defeat to make a strong bid for the 2019 T1 title.

  1. Put the pressure on

Everyone knows that Bangkok United like to play expansive, attacking football and they have made a lot of fans as a result. However, the match against Hanoi suggested the need to do more off the ball to protect their own goal.

Hanoi looked like they had done their homework and, as Bangkok United tried to build, they constantly harried them into mistakes in a torrid first half. As the home side, it should have been Mano Polking’s side who were taking control, but they allowed themselves to be dominated by the visitors for much of the opening 45 minutes.

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Photo credit: Hanoi FC

The formation is very much designed to facilitate an attacking game but, when under pressure, there must be a different gear that allows the players to adopt a more aggressive approach to counter their opponents.

Hanoi managed to slice through the home defence time and again in the first half and only heroics from goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard kept Hanoi out. The Vietnamese side may be better than most teams Bangkok United will face in T1 but lessons must be learned.

  1. Find your range and support the strikers

When Hanoi tired in the second half, they fell deeper and deeper back, but Bangkok United’s passing accuracy began to desert them and many moves broke down due to stray passes or a failure of the midfielders to get forward in support.

On the occasions when Tristan Do managed to make progress down the right wing, he often lined up a cross to see only Nelson Bonilla surrounded by several defenders, with little else to aim at. The result was sometimes a cross easily dealt with by the defence or the need to turn back and build again.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

Vander Luiz and Bonilla were both very lively, while Anon Amornlerdsak had some good moments in the first half. The three of them will cause a lot of headaches for T1 defences on this form. However, when faced with a packed defence, the midfielders need to offer more support to occupy defenders and provide alternative options.

Fitness issues kept Sanrawat Dechmitr out of the starting lineup and he will provide an added dimension, but it is clear that these players need more time to get to know each other’s games.

  1. Look on the bright side

After the defeat to JDT in 2017, Bangkok United suffered a hangover that seemed to last for the first third of the season. Having been T1 runners-up in 2016, another title challenge was the goal, but hopes quickly disappeared with five defeats in the first 12 games.

They proceeded to win 12 of the next 13 but it was too little, too late as Buriram strode to another title. Polking is very conscious of how things went after that loss to the Malaysian side and is determined to prevent a repeat.

The players would do well to look at the positive side of this defeat. There will be no arduous trip to China ahead of T1 Matchday One’s tricky visit to Sukhothai on February 24th. The rigged ACL draw would probably have ensured that the playoff against Shandong Luneng – featuring Graziano Pelle and possibly Marouane Fellaini – would have ended in defeat.

Achieving the aim of becoming champions of Thailand will mean direct entry to the group stages of the 2020 ACL and no need for the qualifying hurdles that ultimately place Southeast Asian teams at a huge disadvantage when it comes to the one-off matches away to sides from stronger leagues.

This defeat was disappointing and exposed some weaknesses in the side. But defeat in Sukhothai would be far more damaging in the grand scheme of things. It is time to turn full attention to what really matters this year.

Referees take centre stage as T2 gets off to controversial start

Two weeks ahead of the big kickoff in Thailand’s top tier, Thai League 2 saw its opening weekend somewhat overshadowed by refereeing controversies.

There were ugly scenes in the match between Udon Thani and JL Chiang Mai United, with players and coaching staff getting into the referee’s face. Rayong FC midfielder Thiago Santos was left bemused as he picked up a yellow card after being on the receiving end of a reckless challenge against Police Tero.

And Air Force United felt hard done by when they had what would have been an equalising goal disallowed for offside in their 3-1 defeat at Army United.

Much has been made of the work put into training referees and trying to ensure more appropriate behaviour from players and staff. However, it quickly unraveled when the action got underway, underlining the scale of the challenge facing the governing bodies in addressing poor refereeing standards and bad behaviour.

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At Army Stadium, the home side took a first-half lead when Mongkol Tossakrai set up Rennan Oliveira but Air Force levelled through a fine Kayne Vincent strike at the start of the second half. The hosts regained the lead when Tanakorn Dangthong headed home but the visitors were furious when the linesman’s flag went up to deny Greg Houla a second equaliser.

Rennan added his second of the night to seal a 3-1 win for Daniel Blanco’s side but Air Force head coach Jason Brown was left frustrated by what he felt was a poor decision with his side 2-1 down.

“We’re going to talk about refereeing decisions,” said Brown. “Goals change games. We go 2-2, we go on and win the game. Day one of the season and we’re talking about a highly controversial decision.

“If it went to 2-2, we were in the ascendancy, we were going forward, we were attacking. But those who haven’t seen Air Force have seen some fantastic young talent. My team fought, dominated possession but ultimately there’s one statistic that counts.”

Another source of frustration for Brown was that the referee seemed to have already forgotten one of the rules the men in the middle insisted would be applied this year.

“We had a meeting with the referees on Wednesday and the referees made it abundantly clear that anyone who kicks the ball away will be yellow-carded,” said Brown. “It happened three times and there were no cautions.

“We all want Thai football to get better. These rules are set by FIFA so if the referees don’t clamp down on it in the games and the players do the same in international games, they’ll get a yellow card.”

Although he saw much to be pleased about in defeat, Brown acknowledged that his youthful side could have made better use of their possession.

“We could improve our use of the ball,” said Brown. “You see us getting into some fantastic positions, you see the intent to make the pass but the quality sometimes isn’t there.

“But if you’re a neutral, you want to watch us play. If we continue to play like that, it will turn and the results will come.”

At the end of an eventful first weekend, BG Pathum United top the table following a 4-0 win at MOF Customs. No one would be surprised to see them in the same position after Matchday 34.

China loss completes Thailand’s five-year journey from zeroes to nearly men

Thailand’s exit from the last 16 of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup brought a somewhat disappointing end to a journey that began back in March 2014.

Almost five years ago, the War Elephants played more like lambs as Lebanon stuffed them 5-2 in Bangkok. It was a shocking result in a shocking campaign that ended with the Thais losing six games out of six in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

Iran and Kuwait were the other teams in their group, but it was this final humiliation from Lebanon that kick-started the recovery that led them to reach the knockout stage this year.

In this context, making the last 16 less than five years later is an impressive achievement, with Kiatisuk Senamuang having taken on the head coach role and given the side the shake it needed to make it competitive again.

But Kiatisuk departed after it became clear that he had no answer to Thailand’s defensive woes when they came up against the continent’s best.

In came Milovan Rajevac, who promised to patch up the leaky defence and out went Rajevac when his players folded under Indian pressure two weeks ago and lost 4-1.

Interim head coach Siridak Yodyardthai steadied the listing ship and helped secure a place in the Round of 16 against China. But it was the India game all over again on Sunday as an impressive first half was followed by a second-half collapse. Although it was a less embarrassing 2-1 defeat, it would have been a lot worse had China been as clinical as the Indians.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

The 1-0 victory over Bahrain in the group stage lifted confidence after the India debacle and the players responded well after going being against the UAE to secure the 1-1 draw they needed to progress to the Round of 16.

But the fact remains that Thailand have a soft centre that is too easily exposed when they come under pressure. To be fair, the Thais suffered a lot of bad luck with injuries and suspensions in the defence but all teams have to deal with such setbacks.

Thailand’s loss of their burgeoning confidence goes back almost two-and-half-years. After getting the better of Iraq in the first stage of 2018 World Cup qualifying, the War Elephants travelled to Saudi Arabia for the first game at this stage of the competition since 2001.

They were more than a match for the Saudis on their own turf and, in keeping with their recent improvements, this looked like a new and confident Thailand ready to prove they belonged among the best of Asia.

But the Saudis were awarded a highly dubious late penalty and took an undeserved 1-0 win and Thailand’s indiscipline saw Sarach Yooyen red-carded.

The Thais never really recovered and never again showed the swagger that they had against the Saudis.

When Kiatisuk was effectively run out of town by FAT president Somyot Poompanmoung in March 2017, it was ostensibly down to the public criticisms of two defeats in World Cup qualifying. The Thais had lost 3-0 at home to Saudi Arabia and 4-0 in Japan to make it six defeats in seven in an increasingly discouraging campaign.

Kiatisuk’s exit threw up many names in some wild speculation over his successor but it was Rajevac who secured the post despite having done nothing of note since leading Ghana to the World Cup quarter-final in 2010.

Rajevac decided that revolution rather than evolution was necessary and ditched Kiatisuk’s favoured 3-5-2 formation and tried to address the team’s defensive issues.

The problem was that the players were used to playing helter-skelter attacking football in the Thai League and adopting Rajevac’s style on international breaks ultimately led to conflict that came to a boil in the failed 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, then simmered angrily until the defeat to India forced action.

Managing Thai players requires not just knowledge and ability but also patience and sensitivity. Fans may look at the incredible job Park Hang-seo has done with Vietnam but there are no guarantees that he would have made a similar impact with Thailand.

What seems clearer than ever is that it might be easier to have a Thai head coach in order to preserve the harmony that is so important to the local society. The flip side is that this harmony can lead to complacency and ultimately failure as it perhaps did under Kiatisuk as he arguably stayed too loyal to a core group of players.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

The alternative is a foreign head coach well versed in the challenges of working in the country. Under-23 head coach Alexandre Gama seems the obvious choice.

The Brazilian managed to work under Newin Chidchob for two years at Buriram United and was tolerant of a club president who insists on sitting in the dugout and undermining the head coach by taking the team talk on the pitch, in front of the cameras.

Apart from some rare exceptions, there is always interference from above and sometimes below in Thai football and not everyone can tolerate it. Christian Ziege made an extremely sharp exit from Ratchaburi last year when it quickly became clear that he would not be calling the shots.

While it would be great to see this change, realistically it won’t, so Thailand needs someone who can work within the system and maintain the trust of the players and the faith of his employers.

Gama has hoovered up trophies in Thailand’s domestic game, lifting league titles with Buriram United in 2014 and 2015, while also winning five domestic cups.

His Chiang Rai United side went all the way to the last four domestic cup finals, winning three of them. This is proof that Gama has what it takes to help his side rise to the occasion, sometimes as underdogs and sometimes playing on the edge of the rules.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

If Gama is not the chosen one, the local talent pool looks pretty shallow. Sirisak has done a decent job in difficult circumstances but putting the smiles back on the faces of the players will not help them through another Asian Cup qualifying campaign.

Those who want Kiatisuk back would do well to remember how his consistent failure to improve the defence resulted in his departure almost two years ago. Former Muang Thong United boss Totchtawan Sripan has just joined Suphanburi and is unlikely to be available any time soon.

The biggest challenge is to find someone who can toughen the players up without damaging egos and that is the extremely delicate balancing act that is required.

In October 2015, Thailand won 3-0 at a canter in Vietnam. Their Southeast Asian neighbours have since overtaken them and showed what mental toughness looks like as they reached the Asian Cup quarter-finals by taking the game to Jordan, overcoming a first-half setback, and finally prevailing in a penalty shootout.

Thailand’s journey from 2014 no-hopers to 2019 respectability is complete. Now it is time to start afresh and to go the next step with the right man in charge.

Thailand must hope for date with Lippi’s China in bid for quarter-final spot

After the emotional rollercoaster of Thailand’s 1-1 draw with the UAE, it’s time for a reality check before the War Elephants play their round of 16 tie in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

There was cause for celebration as caretaker boss Sirisak Yodyardthai saw his team dig in for a point against the tournament hosts to finish second in Group A.

It is a great achievement only in the context of the turmoil of Matchday One, which saw a second-half capitulation against India and the subsequent dismissal of head coach Milovan Rajevac.

However, looking at the bigger picture, the reality is that Thailand have merely met expectations by finishing second to UAE in a relatively weak group.

Neither Group A rivals Bahrain nor India progressed to the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying as Thailand did, so for the Thais to maintain their position as one of the better sides in Asia, their place in the last 16 was vital.

Here are three things to consider after Thitipan Puangchan’s scrappy goal secured Thailand’s ticket to a tie against South Korea or China.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. How good is Chanathip?

Thailand’s finest talent of this, and perhaps any other generation, has demonstrated that when the going gets tough, Chanathip Songkrasin gets going.

He was outstanding in the 1-0 victory over Bahrain last week, scoring a fine winning goal into the bargain. Against the UAE, he put in another all-action performance, producing a decisive contribution as his floated ball over the UAE defence led to the equalising goal.

Chanathip’s physical condition is in stark contrast to the player of three or four years ago, who was considered good for 70 minutes and often substituted. The 25-year-old’s energy levels were incredible as he buzzed around the pitch, nicking the ball off opponents, driving forward in all directions and providing some excellent passes.

An exit in the last 16 would mean that this Thailand team did not go as far as was hoped. However, the last two games have proved that Chanathip is not just a skilful playmaker, but also a leader and a ferocious competitor. He has already gone further than most would have expected a few years back.

  1. Get behind South Korea

Regardless of who they face in the last 16, Thailand will go in as underdogs. Choosing to stick rather than twist in the second half against UAE was an understandable strategy in the context but it also meant that they would have a much tougher last-16 assignment.

However, the War Elephants will surely have a preference for facing an erratic Chinese side over the might of South Korea. To make this happen, South Korea must beat China on Wednesday.

The Koreans have made a slow start to the tournament, picking up 1-0 wins over the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan, while China are also on six points but at the top of Group C on goal difference.

With China’s star man Wu Lei struggling with injury and South Korea having added their top talent Son Heung-min to the squad, it seems clear that Sirisak’s side might have a better chance of reaching the last eight in a tie against Marcello Lippi’s men. Beating China would be a surprise, but beating South Korea would be a monumental shock.

Players and managers will often tell you that they don’t care which team they play in a knockout tournament. However, if Thailand want to go beyond simply meeting expectations, they might be better equipped to see off the challenge of the world’s most populous nation than the country that beat Germany at last year’s World Cup.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. Give Sirisak the job if he wants it

The outstanding achievements of Peter Withe as Thailand head coach from 1998 to 2003 look all the more impressive in light of recent events.

He remains the only foreign head coach to find the formula to get the best from the Thai national team players and after player power apparently saw off Milovan Rajevac, you wonder if there is any point in trying to recruit from overseas again.

Managing Thai players requires a clear understanding of the cultural mindset but there is much more to the job than that. Behind the scenes, there are multiple internal relationships to maintain and the key is not to upset the wrong people.

You cannot go around breaking eggs to make an omelette – you have to walk on egg shells and hope to keep everyone happy.

Tristan Do told Fox Sports that Rajevac took the fun out of training – interesting comments from someone raised in France – but very representative of the Thai character. There needs to be fun, the atmosphere has to be light and then the players will respond to you.

For that reason, it seems pointless to scour the globe for another Rajevac or Peter Reid or Winfried Schafer. The success of Kiatisuk Senamuang was built on his relationships with the players and in a job in which you have limited time with the players and have to hit the ground running, it might be a lot easier to put faith in someone who does not have a steep learning curve in intercultural understanding ahead of them.

If Sirisak can deal with the various challenges of the job, while maintaining the respect of the players, he might be the best available option.

Chanathip leads way as Thailand victory keeps Asian Cup hopes alive

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. Chanathip rises to the occasion

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. Tristan back to his best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. Siwarak grabs his chance

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry second half seals Rajevac’s fate

One game into the 2019 AFC Asian Cup campaign and Thailand have suffered humiliation on and off the pitch, with a 4-1 defeat to India followed by the sacking of head coach Milovan Rajevac.

Incredibly, it all looked good after 45 minutes of Sunday’s Group A clash, with the War Elephants having had the better of the first half and the score at 1-1.

It looked as if Rajevac’s attacking formation was being vindicated, with Chanathip Songkrasin and Thitipan Puangchan bossing the midfield and Sanrawat Dechmitr becoming more influential.

However, the wheels came off spectacularly in the second half as the Indians punished Thailand’s lackadaisical performance and came up with three fine goals.

Here are five of the key moments that led to Rajevac’s sacking.

  1. Failure in the AFF Suzuki Cup

Some Thai fans almost consider the AFF Suzuki Cup trophy as their property to lose, with dominance in Southeast Asia the minimum expectation for their country. The trophy had gone missing for 12 long years until local hero Kiatisuk Senamuang rode to the rescue and led his nation to glory in 2014 and 2016.

Rajevac may have been missing the country’s four best players in goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan and J League-based trio Chanathip, Theerathon Bunmathan and Teerasil Dangda, but the two-time defending champions still entered the 2018 tournament as many people’s favourites.

Performances were inconsistent in the early stages but the Thais still topped their group and progressed to the semi-finals. Alarm bells started ringing in the first leg of the semi-final as Thailand were comprehensively outplayed in Malaysia but managed to hang on for a 0-0 draw.

The stage seemed set for a victory in Bangkok to take the favourites through but Malaysia had other ideas and dug in for a 2-2 draw to progress on away goals, with Adisak Kraisorn’s added-time penalty miss sealing the home side’s fate.

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  1. Kawin’s injury

The four overseas-based players were welcomed back into the Thai squad with relief, following the disappointment at the AFF Cup. Some fans were calling for Rajevac’s head, frustrated at his defensive tactics and embarrassed by the perceived humiliation of drawing twice with Malaysia.

Nevertheless, it was reasonable to expect that you couldn’t judge Rajevac without Thailand’s top players.

Unfortunately, it emerged that Kawin was struggling with a foot injury and his place in the UAE was in doubt. Having seen both Chatchai Budprom and Siwarak Tedsungnoen struggle for form at the AFF Cup, this was the last thing Rajevac needed and worst fears were confirmed when Kawin failed to recover in time.

Thailand would enter the tournament without its undisputed Number One and with two keepers who looked short of confidence. You could make a fair case for suggesting that Kawin might have instilled more stability at the back and maybe made a better attempt at preventing the second and fourth Indian goals, with Chatchai’s positioning and reactions unconvincing.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. Reffing hell

When a team has played as badly as Thailand did in Sunday’s second half, refereeing errors are often overlooked. But, make no mistake, two pivotal decisions went the way of India and led directly and more indirectly to their first two goals.

Thailand were beginning to get the upper hand when India were gifted a penalty after the ball ricocheted off Theerathon Bunmathan’s hand. Once again, the rules on handball left everyone baffled as it was clear that the contact with the hand was unavoidable.

The Thais fought back quickly and levelled through Teerasil and all looked good at the break.

Then came refereeing error number two. In the first minute of the second half, Chanathip was crudely pushed to the ground as he was shielding the ball near the touchline deep in the Indian half.

The referee waved play on and the Thais were caught napping as the Indians powered forward, the counter attack ending with Sunil Chhetri firing high past Chatchai from the edge of the box.

Consider the possibility that Thailand had rightly been awarded a free kick and Theerathon had had the opportunity to float one of his set pieces into the box and who knows?

  1. Mental breakdown

It’s tough on a head coach when players fail to perform the basics but that’s exactly what happened once the referee had failed to award a free kick for the foul on Chanathip.

The Thais were caught on the hop and failed to react quickly enough to the danger as India broke at pace. The midfielders were particularly culpable as 34-year-old Chhetri was allowed to run unhindered from midway inside his own half before smacking the ball home.

Thereafter, the shell-shocked Thailand team simply failed to respond in the face of aggressive Indian pressing. They couldn’t string passes together and get themselves back in the game.

Rajevac also failed to respond quickly enough when it was clear that his side was losing the battle in midfield. There were options on the bench in Pokklaw Anan and Tanaboon Kesarat, as Adisak Kraisorn and Supachai Jaided struggled to make an impact out wide.

When Rajevac did respond, it was to push Theerathon out of position into centre midfield and introduce Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri at left-back.

But the game had already been lost at this stage and at no point in the second half did Thailand looked like staging a second comeback. Fans on social media bemoaned Thailand’s soft centre and mental weakness. How much of that can the head coach control?

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

  1. The Thai Heskey for the Thai Messi

It brought back memories of Graham Taylor’s infamous decision to replace Gary Lineker with Alan Smith with England needing a goal to beat Sweden at the 1992 European Championship.

In Taylor’s defence, Lineker was past his peak and looking unlikely to score, though logic suggests you need to keep such a predator on the park in times of need.

Unlike Lineker, Chanathip – Messi Jay – has recently been at the peak of his powers. After a strong first half, he got lost in the general Thai malaise in the second half. However, with a minimum of two goals required, you would think you would keep your best creative player on the park.

Not Rajevac. He decided to replace the playmaker with the muscular presence of ‘striker’ Siroch Chattong – a man who has recently been out of favour for both club and country and whose lack of goals has seen him dubbed the ‘Thai Heskey’.

It almost appeared that Rajevac was throwing in the towel at that point and, having had the sword of Damocles hanging over him since the AFF Suzuki Cup, decided that he would rather see it fall than continue.

Time for wounded Thailand to take stock

Thailand’s bid for a third consecutive AFF Suzuki Cup title ended in painful drama as Adisak Kraisorn skied an added-time penalty kick to let Malaysia off the hook.

But the 2-2 draw that saw the Harimau Malaya through to the final on away goals was no more than the visitors deserved as the War Elephants again failed to find the necessary intensity and creativity.

Only poor finishing prevented Malaysia from coming to Bangkok with a semi-final first-leg lead but two fine finishes on this occasion ensured that Thailand failed to reach the final for the first time since 2010.

While there will be an inevitable social media outcry, let’s take a look at five things we learned from Thailand’s 2018 AFF Suzuki campaign.

  1. There is no substitute for Chanathip

Much has been made of the absence of Thailand’s four overseas-based players and there is no doubt that they would have had a much stronger chance of winning the tournament with Chanathip Songkrasin, Teerasil Dangda, Kawin Thamsatchanan and Theerathon Bunmathan in the team.

Adisak did his best to replace Teerasil with eight goals, while Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri’s set-piece deliveries were reminiscent of Theerathon.

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However, no one could replicate the direct running that Chanathip offers and the speedy transitions in play that he can bring. Build-up play was often laboured and, while floated balls over the top from Sanrawat Dechmitr may have proved too much for Timor Leste, it became much tougher against better opponents.

The return of Chanathip for the AFC Asian Cup will be most welcome.

  1. There is no substitute for Kawin

Missing Kawin was less of a concern until Buriram United’s Siwarak Tedsungnoen made a howler against Indonesia before Chatchai Budprom’s blunder saw Thailand drop two points in the Philippines.

The Chiang Rai United keeper then let a backpass roll under his foot against Singapore before scurrying back to prevent the ball crossing the line.

Arguably, Chatchai’s biggest mistake was to rile the Malaysians with some crass comments ahead of Wednesday’s match. His bold proclamation that the visitors would experience a ‘nightmare’ in Bangkok only served to fire up the opponents and they were quick to remind him at the final whistle.

It may well be the last time Chatchai is invited along to a press conference, with many Thai fans critical of his lack of humility and respect for the opposition – particularly given his own struggles with form.

The Thai defenders will be relieved to have the reassuring presence of Kawin behind them in the UAE next month.

  1. Rajevac sometimes needs to twist

Milovan Rajevac is well known to be a pragmatic coach and he vowed to try and solidify a flimsy Thai defence when he came into the job.

Things had been going reasonably well at the expense of the more expansive attacking football favoured by previous head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang and the large majority of the Thai fans.

Unforunately, Rajevac seems to be stuck in the same gear too often when a different approach might be necessary. When Thailand took the lead for the second time against Malaysia, there was an immediate move to sit deeper and it backfired when the visitors levelled for a second time, with the defence very much at fault.

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Photo Credit: FA Thailand

Rajevac can point the absence of his four best players when the inevitable inquest into Thailand’s failure begins but he needs to take some responsibility for a pragmatic approach that seemed to hold Thailand back when they should have been going in for the kill.

There was a lack of variety in the final third and too often players took the wrong option and promising moves broke down. Chanathip will provide part of the solution here but Rajevac must give the players more confidence to express themselves.

  1. Right-back to square one

Nowhere can Rajevac’s tactical dilemma be seen more clearly than in his inability to settle on his favoured right-back. Tristan Do has been discarded, apparently due to his tendency to focus more on attack than defence, but Philip Roller is similarly attack-minded and has been playing at struggling Ratchaburi.

Mika Chunuonsee provided a more solid defensive option that Rajevac took up after Roller struggled in the Philippines.

But Rajevac turned to Roller for the second leg against Malaysia and it seemed a move designed to push back against the attacking force of the Malaysians on the left.

Unfortunately, Roller had a night to forget and was one of the weakest links in the team. He perhaps feels stifled by the defensive discipline required and this is interfering with his natural game.

This is clearly a position that requires more thought. Based on performances in this competition, Mika will provide a more reliable option than Roller and then there is always the option of swallowing pride and giving Mr Do a call.

  1. It’s not the end of the world

It’s relatively rare for teams to win international tournaments two times in succession, never mind three.

Players get complacent and lose hunger, while other countries recover and make plans to knock the champions off their perch. We saw holders Germany humiliated in the World Cup this year in a similar way to what had happened to Spain four years previously.

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Photo Credit: FA Thailand

And it should be remembered that Thailand bore no resemblance to the side that defeated Indonesia in the final two years ago. Just one player – Tanaboon Kesarat – started the second leg of that final and on Wednesday in Bangkok. Only two other players – Mongol Tossakrai and Pokklaw Anan – were in the squad.

Under Rajevac, there has been revolution and not evolution. Despite this, but for Adisak’s last-minute miss, Thailand would have been looking forward to a final against a Vietnam side that bears many similarities to the Thai team of 2014 – young, gifted and hungry.

This points to a depth of talent that is the envy of other countries in the region. Despite a complete overhaul of personnel, Thailand exited the tournament undefeated. What must happen now, though, is to mould this talent into a side that can progress from the group stage in the AFC Asian Cup at the very least.

Chiang Rai hat-trick hero Bill breaks Buriram hearts

Bill was the hat-trick hero for Chiang Rai United as the side from the far north beat Buriram United 3-2 to retain the Thai FA Cup in a thrilling match.

Buriram hit back to level twice but also missed a penalty and saw Sasalak Haiprakhon sent off late on as they failed to seal a league and cup double.

It was a match full of controversial moments as the use of VAR resulted in two penalty awards and the reversal of a red card decision as Chiang Rai followed up last week’s win in the League Cup final with another trophy winning performance.

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The cup holders stunned Buriram in the second minute as they took the lead through Bill. William Henrique led a counter attack down the left and crossed for his fellow Brazilian to take a touch before slotting past Siwarak Tedsungngoen from close range.

But after a frantic 10 minutes, Buriram were handed an opportunity to get back in the game when Diogo Luis Santo found Osvaldo breaking on the left before being hacked down as he cut inside.

But just he had done so heroically in last week’s League Cup final, Chatchai Budprom pulled off a save, pushing Diogo’s effort wide.

Supachai Jaided then came to close to an equaliser in the 23rdminute but his low shot from 16 yards was inches past the post.

But Buriram finally levelled the score just two minute later with an excellent solo effort from Osvaldo. The Brazilian winger cut in from the right, skipping past a couple of challenges in a crowded penalty area before firing low into the corner from 14 yards.

As half-time approached Rattakanorn Maikami fired a volley into the arms of Chatchai before the keeper launched a counter attack.

Again, William outpaced the Buriram defence down the left wing and when he cut inside from near the goal-line, Andres Tunez clearly chopped him down. The referee failed to give the penalty but VAR came into play and Chiang Rai were finally awarded the spot-kick.

Bill added his second of the night from the penalty spot to make it 2-1 with 43 minutes on the clock.

Buriram made the perfect start to the second half when they were awarded their second penalty of the game in the 50thminute after Sasalak was tripped. The referee requested a review, which confirmed the foul had taken place just inside the box.

Despite missing a spot-kick in the first half, Diogo stepped up again and this time he found the target to make it 2-2.

The game became increasingly stretched and William again had the Buriram defenders backpedaling when he surged in from the right and let fly from 20 yards in the 61stminute. But the shot went straight into the arms of a grateful Siwarak.

Buriram then threatened after some nice interplay between Diogo and Javier Patino in the Chiang Rai penalty area, but the former’s shot was blocked.

As the final 20 minutes loomed, a smart pass from Diogo found Osvaldo on the edge of the box but the former Brazil international’s shot on the turn was well off target.

And it was Chiang Rai who took the lead against the run of play in the 72ndminute. Lee Yong Rae’s slide-rule pass beat the Buriram offside trap and Bill ran clear and fired home to complete his hat-trick.

The Beetles were then given a let-off when Chaiyawat Buran looked set for an early shower after being red-carded for an ugly, late lunge on Suchao Nutnum. But there was yet another video review and the card colour strangely changed to yellow.

With nine minutes left, Osvaldo almost levelled again but Chatchai saved his close-range show from a narrow angle.

And Buriram received a further blow with three minutes remaining as Sasalak picked up a second yellow card for a cynical tug on Sivakorn Tiatrakul.

With the referee bizarrely giving just three minutes of added time, it seemed that Chiang Rai’s name was on the cup.

And they withstood some late Buriram pressure to clinch their third domestic cup in two years as Alexandre Gama’s men once again proved to be the cup specialists.

More questions than answers for Thai boss Rajevac after friendly wins

Two wins and two clean sheets paint a very positive picture of Thailand’s October friendlies as they prepare to defend the AFF Suzuki Cup next month.

A determined rearguard action, some good goalkeeping and more than a bit of luck ensured that the War Elephants escaped from Hong Kong with a 1-0 win on Thursday.

On Sunday evening, a more assured performance saw a deserved home win over Trinidad & Tobago, again by a 1-0 margin.

There is now plenty for head coach Milovan Rajevac to consider before the AFF Suzuki Cup kicks off with a home match against Timor Leste on November 9th.

  1. Siwarak stakes his claim

Despite being the regular goalkeeper at the best club in the Thai League, Buriram United’s Siwarak Tedsungnoen has found his opportunities at international level limited by the excellence of Kawin Thamsatchanan and Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool.

With Kawin unavailable and Sintaweechai retired from international football, Siwarak finds himself the obvious choice to start in goal after several years of regular participation in the AFC Champions League.

The 34-year-old pulled off a number of impressive saves against Hong Kong to reinforce his case.

Chiang Rai United’s Chatchai Budprom generally did well against Trinidad & Tobago but a moment of rashness in the second half may have cost him any chance of being preferred to Siwarak. After failing to take the ball cleanly, he charged out of the box and dived on the ball, earning a yellow card for deliberate handball.

On the basis of form, experience and these two matches, Siwarak certainly looks a safer pair of hands.

  1. Chalermpong and three others…

One of the first things Rajevac did as Thailand boss was to make Chalermpong Kerdkaew an integral part of his squad.

The Nakhon Ratchasima centre-back made his international debut at the age of 30 and the fact that he was one of only two players to start in Hong Kong and then Suphanburi was an indication of how highly valued he is.

But it is unclear who else well will make up the back four that Rajevac prefers.

At right-back, Philip Roller put in an energetic performance, capped by the winning goal on Thursday. But Mika Chunuonsee was solid in the same position on Sunday after an impressive season at Bangkok United.

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Manuel Bihr put in an impressive shift alongside Chalermpong in Hong Kong and may have just edged Suphan Thongsong on that basis. However, Buriram’s Pansa Hemviboon will surely be considered for the final squad after missing out on these two matches.

At left-back, Peerapat Notchaiya did not play in either friendly but will surely be in contention. Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri did not perform as he can for his club when he started in Hong Kong and it was disappointing not to see Port FC’s Kevin Deeromram given a chance to show what he can do.

On the basis of these two matches it seems that the defence will be made up of Chalermpong and three others.

  1. Middle men fight it out

Rajevac’s preferred midfield will likely feature Thitipan Puangchan and Tanaboon Kesarat, with three more advanced players behind a lone striker.

Thitipan’s dynamic second-half performance and winning goal against Trinidad & Tobago highlighted his importance but there was nothing else decisive.

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Tanaboon is still playing his way back into his best form after a long spell out through injury, while there was plenty to think about in the performances of the various other players who contributed.

Sanrawat Dechmitr, Pokklaw Anan and Sumanya Purisai may be teammates at Bangkok United but they are clearly in competition with the national side. Sumanya’s fine shift on Sunday has certainly put him firmly in the frame.

Meanwhile, Anon Amornlerdsak’s lively contribution as a second-half substitute against Trinidad & Tobago suggests he may be higher up the pecking order than the more experienced Nurul Sriyankem.

  1. Front men firing blanks

 While two clean sheets represented good news for the defence, two goals scored by a full-back and a midfielder reinforced the problems in attack.

Teerasil Dangda played 45 minutes against Trinidad & Tobago to be a part of Sintaweechai’s testimonial celebrations but will be unavailable in November.

Buriram’s 19-year-old Supachai Jaided was tried out as a lone striker in Hong Kong but made little impact in a position he never plays for his club.

Chananan Pombuppha earned starts in both friendlies but while a willing worker, he rarely threatened to score in the role of second striker.

Adisak Kraisorn was sluggish when he came on a substitute against Hong Kong but put in a much better display on Sunday, though still couldn’t find the target.

Adisak has had an injury-plagued couple of years and it remains to be seen if he can reach the right level of match sharpness before the match against Timor Leste.

However, given his experience and scoring record, Adisak currently looks the front runner for the role of lone striker in Rajevac’s preferred formation.

Bangkok Glass falter on home straight as Sukhothai and Chainat survive

Bangkok Glass dropped into the second tier for the first time in their brief history as a 2-1 defeat at home to Nakhon Ratchasima sealed their fate on a dramatic final day of the 2018 Thai League (T1) season.

Port FC sealed third spot as Dragan Boskovic’s four goals gave them a 4-1 win over Pattaya United, while Buriram United’s 1-0 victory at Ratchaburi put them onto 87 points for the season, a T1 record.

However, the biggest stories came at the other end of the table as three teams attempted to avoid finishing in 14th place – the final allocated slot for relegation in a season that sees five teams go down.

Shattered Glass pay penalty for final week failure 

Bangkok Glass’ relegation is one of the biggest shocks of this or any other T1 season.

Since their first season in the top tier in 2009, their lowest finish has been 10th while they have ended the last two years in third and fifth places respectively.

But a poor start to the season saw head coach Josep Ferre sacked by the end of March. The Spaniard’s departure didn’t seem to help and there was a truly shambolic performance in April as they fell 5-2 at home to newly promoted Chainat. It was at this point that relegation first seemed a realistic possibility.

But the Glass Rabbits proceeded to take eight points from the next four games to ease concerns.

However, form became erratic again and there was another run of three straight losses in June, including a limp 1-0 submission at home to Navy FC.

The return from loan of striker Ariel Rodríguez and arrival of defensive midfielder Tanaboon Kesarat then sparked a recovery that saw them lose just one game in nine between mid-July and the end of September.

But last weekend’s defeat at Suphanburi was followed by a failure to beat relegated Ubon UMT Utd at home in midweek.

Just one point was necessary at home to Nakhon Ratchasima on the final day. But, despite taking the lead and despite the Swatcats having nothing to play for, the home side lost their lead, lost a man when Tanaboon was red-carded, lost the game 2-1 and lost their place in T1 in the process.

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Photo Credit: Bangkok Glass

Bangkok Glass finished level on points with Chainat and with a vastly superior goal difference. But they took just one point from two games with the Hornbills and the head-to-head record has decided their fate.

There is still a chance of a silver lining to 2018 when Bangkok Glass face Chiang Rai United in the League Cup final on October 20th. However, the tears of fans and players tell you that staying in T1 was probably a greater priority.

Doumbia’s nerves of steel keep Chainat in T1

At the beginning of Matchday 34, Chainat were firm favourites for the drop, with relegation rivals Sukhothai and Bangkok Glass at home to teams with nothing but pride to play for.

The Hornbills got a break midway through the first half when they were awarded a penalty and Henri Doumbia stepped up to slot home.

With 10-man Bangkok Glass 2-1 down, Chainat knew their escape was in sight when disaster struck in the final minute. Tinnakorn Asurin’s header seemed to condemn the Hornbills to T2 with just minutes of added time remaining.

But there was more late drama to come as Chainat earned their second penalty of the match. A corner was swung into the Suphanburi area and the referee apparently saw a handball and pointed to the spot.

After the familiar complaints and delay, Doumbia was the coolest man on the park as he stepped up to convert the penalty that keeps his team in the top tier.

Malagasy magic saves Sukhothai 

Win at home to relegated Air Force United and survival is assured. It looked straightforward enough on paper but Sukhothai made heavy weather of confirming their place in T1 for the 2019 season.

Twice they took the lead, first through Kabfah Boonmatoon and then through a 40-yard screamer from Sakdarin Mingsamorn. But twice they were pegged back as Kayne Vincent continued his rich vein of goalscoring form with his second double of the week.

It was time for the men from Madagascar to combine to save Sukhothai from relegation.

With 20 minutes remaining, John Baggio picked up the ball on the left of penalty area and spotted the run of countryman Njiva Rakotoharimalala. Baggio produced an exquisite cross with the outside of his right foot and Njiva timed his run to perfection and volleyed home at the far post.

Sukhothai’s survival will see them compete in T1 for the fourth year and for that they owe a lot to their Malagasy attacking midfielders and the 19 goals they have netted between them.