Suphanat Mueanta stole the show as Thailand warmed up for Tuesday’s crucial World Cup 2022 qualifier against the UAE with a 1-1 draw at home to Congo.
The 17-year-old didn’t even start the game but his rich potential was there for all to see as he became the biggest threat to the African side in the second half.
The Buriram United striker has made a significant breakthrough this year, becoming a key member of his club’s squad as their foreign strikers have failed to impress.
While it was great to see Teerasil Dangda back on the scoresheet for the War Elephants, the Thai fans would have been more excited by the impact of his heir apparent.
Teerasil is a born goal scorer and the predatory instincts that saw him put the hosts ahead with a diving header remain very much alive at the age of 31. However, time is not on the Muang Thong United legend’s side and injuries have taken their toll.
Photo credit: @Changsuek
Fourteen years his junior, Suphanat showed no fear when he replaced Teerasil at half-time on Thursday. He immediately put himself about in a way that suggests he should become a striker with much more to his game than finishing.
His best moment came when he evaded a couple of challenges from the Congolese defence as he cut in from the left, creating space for a shot from the edge of the penalty box. Unfortunately, he pulled the shot wide but it demonstrated his ability to make something happen.
Suphanat would have a different kind of impact later in the match at both ends of the pitch. Following a Congo corner, the striker picked up the ball on the Thai 18-yard-line but his attempt to surge forward and mount a counter attack was crudely ended by a cynical challenge from Harvy Ossete.
With the match then entering the final stages, Suphanat again tried to work his way through the Congo defence but his run was ended by a trip from Ossete, who earned his second yellow.
Having seen his young teammate single-handedly reduce the opposition to 10 men, Bodin Phala almost struck the winner from the resulting free kick but his powerful effort was well saved.
Photo credit: @Changsuek
A 1-1 draw was a decent result with Thailand weakened by the absence of their three injured Japan-based players. But while Theerathon Bunmathan’s injury in the warm-up saw the evening begin on a sour note, Suphanat’s second-half performance gave fans the feeling that they were witnessing a coming-of-age of sorts.
At 17, the hard work is just beginning for Suphanat but it’s rare to see a 17-year-old playing for a national side, never mind tormenting his opponents in this manner.
Head coach Akira Nishino will probably start with Teerasil again on Tuesday but he will have no hesitation in turning to the Buriram prodigy if the Thais need a bit of inspiration.