Thailand’s uncertain form on the international stage continued as they were beaten 1-0 by Vietnam in the semi-final of the 2019 King’s Cup on Wednesday.

A calamitous last-minute error from goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan handed the visitors victory at the Chang Arena in Buriram after an even and bad-tempered affair.

It was further evidence that Thailand are no longer the dominant force in the region and that the War Elephants look ill-prepared for the start of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifers later this year.

Here are three things we learned from Wednesday’s match.

  1. There is little between Thailand and Vietnam

Vietnam have certainly bridged the gulf in class that existed between the two sides the last time they met back in 2015. Four years ago in Hanoi, Thailand eased to a 3-0 victory, as Kiatisuk Senamuang’s side demonstrated their free-flowing game with a wonderful goal from Theerathon Bunmathan.

It was feared that the roles would be reversed in Buriram, with Vietnam now AFF champions and having been the more impressive side in January’s Asian Cup. Thailand were again without their mercurial talisman Chanathip Songkrasin and top striker Teerasil Dangda, while Kawin was taking tentative steps after several months out injured.

The above trio, along with Theerathon, had missed last year’s AFF Suzuki Cup, leaving a slight asterisk over Vietnam’s triumph, with Thailand unable to field their four best players. With two of them starting Wednesday’s match, it was a chance for the Vietnamese to prove their superiority.


Photo credit: @Changsuek

However, it was more of a spiteful slug-fest, with little quality on show from either side. Vietnam are certainly a more cohesive unit and their pressing forced the Thais into many errors as the home side constantly surrendered possession.

But the energetic Thais also kept their opponents at bay in a game broken up by numerous fouls and tedious flare-ups.

Thailand can point to the fact that they struck the post through Supachai Jaided, had a goal controversially disallowed and should have been awarded a penalty when Theerathon was clearly fouled by Nguyen Trong Hoang.

With Vietnam’s winning goal coming from a goalkeeping howler, it’s fair to suggest that the AFF champions had their share of luck.

Fans are keen to claim that the balance of power has shifted in Southeast Asia. While Vietnam have certainly caught up, on this evidence, they on a par rather than clearly superior. The worry for Thailand is that Vietnam have youth on their side.

  1. Thitipan’s star continues to rise

Midfield dynamo Thitipan Puangchan’s Thai League form earned him a move to Oita Trinita in Japan and he has made a solid start to life in the J League, with his club flying high.

If we can put a foolish slap to one side, his performance against Vietnam again showed why he has become one of Thailand’s most important players. His energy was in stark contrast to Sarach Yooyen – a player who has gone backwards while Thitipan has risen to new heights.


Photo credit: @Changsuek

Thitipan came close to giving his side the lead when a typical piece of harrying ended with him stealing possession and volleying just wide from 20 yards. If Thailand are to have a strong World Cup qualifying campaign, they will need him fit, in-form and disciplined.

  1. Indiscipline rears its ugly head again

Followers of the Thai League are accustomed to seeing mass shoving matches, horrendous playacting and poor refereeing. One of the teams may have been from Vietnam and the referee may have been Japanese, but we saw very much the same three features.

The Japanese referee started off seemingly determined not to book anyone as Nguyen Van Toan threw an elbow and Adisorn Promrak committed a cynical foul and escaped with warnings.


Photo credit: @Changsuek

With things getting progressively nastier, Do Duy Manh placed a sly boot in Supachok Sarachat’s posterior after fouling him and it all kicked off. Thitipan seemed to initially be trying to calm things but when Doan Van Hau pushed him back, he responded by slapping the defender. Van Hau collapsed as if flattened by a Mike Tyson punch and Van Toan ran to the referee like a school kid running to the teacher.

At the end of it all, Theerathon and Van Toan were the only two yellow-carded, while Thitipan and Duy Manh escaped.

More nasty fouls followed, with both sides losing their cool and Pansa Hembviboon’s horrific challenge on Nguyen Cong Phoung earned just a yellow card – another example of refereeing cowardice / incompetence.

This nonsense is a big enough turn-off for Thai League fans and it was discouraging to see it on the international stage as well. It will do neither side any favours in their ambitions to go beyond being ‘Kings of ASEAN’.