Thailand face a date with destiny on Tuesday as they need just a point against Iraq in their final Group A match of the 2020 AFCU23 Championship.

As hosts of the tournament, anything less than progress to the quarterfinals would be a crushing disappointment, especially after the thrilling 5-0 over Bahrain on Matchday One.

But Saturday’s listless second-half performance in the 2-1 defeat to Australia has put everyone back on edge as the young War Elephants attempt to keep their hopes of making the 2020 Olympic Games alive.

Here are three things to look out for when Thailand face Iraq at the Rajamangala Stadium.

  1. Nishino must learn from World Cup mistakes 

Thailand’s head coach has been here before. 18 months ago, Akira Nishino’s Japan side needed a point from the final group match against Poland to reach the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.

The Samurai Blue had taken four points from their first two Group H matches, having beaten Colombia and drawn with Senegal. The Poles had already been eliminated after two defeats.


Photo credit: Changsuek

For the Poland match, Nishino inexplicably made six changes to a team that had generally played well. Perhaps he underestimated his opponents, maybe he felt some players needed a rest and he may simply have felt the changes would work tactically in a high stakes match.

Whatever the thought processes, he seemed to get things spectacularly wrong as the Japanese delivered a flat, disjointed performance and slipped to a 1-0 defeat. There was salvation as Colombia’s late winner against Senegal saw Japan progress on the Fair Play rule.

However, Nishino must know he got lucky that day. While some changes may be beneficial for a side that looked dead on its feet in Saturday’s second half, a radical overhaul would surely not help the Thais in their attempts to make history.

  1. Play smarter, not harder

Thailand have played exceptionally well in the first halves of their first two matches, attacking with flair and pressing relentlessly. Unfortunately, the players have been unable to sustain the tempo.

They were fortunate to come through a period of pressure with their 2-0 lead over Bahrain intact. Much more alarming was the second-half slump against the Aussies, which saw the Olyroos ease to victory, having endured a torrid first 45 minutes.


Photo credit: Changsuek

Thailand’s attacking has been great fun to watch at times but Nishino’s 4-2-4 formation is also high-risk when the team will inevitably come under pressure at certain stages of games.

We will surely see some changes to the personnel to reflect the need to be a little more cautious and less gung-ho against an Iraq side that has been unimpressive but nevertheless fought back to earn draws in their first two matches.

  1. Time for Ben?

It seemed quite a coup when Ben Davis pledged his allegiance to Thailand, having had to relinquish his eligibility for Singapore. The Fulham midfielder may not have established himself in the first team of the English Championship club but the pedigree suggests he should be good enough for a spot in the Thai side.

Nishino hasn’t seen it that way, understandably preferring Supachok Sarachat in the attacking midfield role. With everything on the line, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod and now might be the right time to give Davis his opportunity.

Nishino has sprung a few surprises in his time with Thailand and there are plenty more possibilities. Having brought Davis all the way from England for the tournament, it would seem strange if he didn’t get the chance to show what he can do.


Photo credit: Changsuek

The same XI have started both games so far. With Tuesday’s clash being the third big test in six days, fresh legs are certainly needed. Nishino knows he cannot do without Supachok, but he could surely find a way of playing Davis alongside him. He has found ways of playing several attacking midfielders in previous matches, using the likes of Ekanit Panya, Chanathip Songkrasin and Supachok together.

There are some big decisions to make in terms of the starting lineup and perhaps finding room for the Phuket-born midfielder will be one of them.