Thailand are on the brink of elimination from the 2018 Asian Games after a 1-0 defeat to Uzbekistan in the final Group B game on Sunday evening.
Zabikhillo Urinboev’s 17th-minute strike was the difference between the sides on the night, while Kwanchai Suklom saved Azizjon Ganiev’s first-half penalty as Uzbekistan dominated.
The Thais had a better second half but failed to create many clear opportunities and look like paying the price for having drawn with Qatar and Bangladesh in the first two games, despite being the dominant side in both matches.
The young War Elephants sit in third place on two points, with Bangladesh’s surprise 1-0 over Qatar sealing their place in the last 16.
Thailand is now depending on other sides failing to match their third-place performance but, with just two points on the board, this looks unlikely as three third-placed teams are already above them and several teams are still in with a chance of overtaking them.
Here are three observations from Thailand’s Group B campaign.
- Youngsters failing Asian Cup audition
Apart from the incentive of winning a medal for their country, another carrot for the Thailand players in this tournament has been the opportunity to play themselves into contention for a place in the Asian Cup 2019 squad.
Unlike previous U23 squads, this year’s has no regular full internationals so this was very much a chance to prove something to national team head coach Milovan Rajevac.
Unfortunately, no one has really stood out, with the exception of supersub Supachai Jaided, whose two goals earned Thailand two points in the games against Qatar and Bangladesh.
The Buriram United striker failed to repeat the trick against the Uzbeks but will certainly have caught the eye of Rajevac with his energy, physicality and goals.
- Worrawoot blowing his second chance
Worrawoot Srimaka can point to a 2017 SEA Games gold medal as proof of his success in the role as head coach of Thailand’s U23 side. However, overall, his two stints have been disappointing.
Despite home advantage in the qualifiers for the AFC U23 qualifiers in July 2017, the Thais made a meal of things and finished second behind Malaysia having drawn with Indonesia and Mongolia.
The SEA Games performances were unimpressive and the tournament was won with none of the panache that we became used to under the previous regime. Thailand limped to somewhat fortuitous 1-0 victories over Myanmar in the semi-final and Malaysia in the final but the games were painful to watch.
There was then a change of head coach as Zoran Jankovic took over for January’s AFC U23 Championship but the disastrous campaign in China saw the Bulgarian sacked and Worawoot invited back into the fold.
But the has failed to convince with some eccentric team selections undermining his credibility. The refusal to start Supachai against Uzbekistan smacked of stubbornness, the Buriram striker having come off the bench and scored in the previous two games.
The Thai League was put on hold for a month to allow him full access to the country’s best young players but all Worrawoot could deliver were draws against Qatar and Bangladesh.
It simply hasn’t been good enough and there is no way he has made the best of the players at his disposal. There will surely be thoughts of another change on the way.
- Southeast Asian swing
While Thailand were struggling for points against Bangladesh and Qatar, their Southeast Asian neighbours were swatting aside some of the continent’s best.
Malaysia put in an outstanding performance to beat a South Korea side who turned to Spurs striker Son Heung-min to try and save the day in the second half.
Vietnam – runners-up in this year’s AFC U23 Championship – then defeated Japan on Sunday. While the Japanese were playing their U21 team, it was a more comfortable win than the 1-0 scoreline suggests.
Thailand had been the dominant force in the region at both senior and U23 level for five years but, based on performances this year, they can no longer claim to be the top U23 side. In the unlikely event, that they sneak through to the last 16, it is difficult to see them troubling one of the top sides.
This year’s AFF Cup will give Malaysia and Vietnam the opportunity to prove that they have also caught up at senior level.