In the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup that is set to take place in Russia, Saudi Arabia got off to the ideal start in Group B as they claimed a tense 1-0 victory over Thailand.
Despite losing, Thailand gave a brilliant account of themselves in front of a packed crowd at Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd Stadium.
Midway through the first half former Almeria striker Teerasil Dangda forced Saudi Arabia’s Yasser Al Mosailem into action, the experienced keeper saving after Teerasil had a dip from the edge of the penalty area.
Moments later and Teerasil was at it again. He thought he had earned his side a penalty when Al Mosailem raced off his goal-line to close down the space himself and the dangerous striker, only to foul the 28-year-old. However, Chinese referee Fu Ming, awarded a free-kick. He deemed that the offense took place just outside the area. Nothing came of the dead-ball play.
When the half-time whistle blew, Thailand had made all the play and their dominance continued after the break.
On the hour mark Kiatisuk Senamuang’s side should have taken the lead but Al Mosailem again denied Teerasil with a fine save after Theerathon Bunmathan’s cross from the left provided the striker with the chance to steer his flying header into the back of the net.
In the final quarter Saudi Arabia eventually found their groove and began to threaten Thailand’s goal.
That pressure told in the 81st minute when Sarach Yooyen was judged to have brought down Fahad Al Muwallad in the area. Despite enthusiastic protests from the Thailand players, Nawaf Al Abid calmly stepped up to slot his left foot spot kick into the bottom corner as he wrong-footed Kawin Thamsatchanan in the Thai goal.
The game ended that way. A draw would have been a far fairer result. Thailand supporters have plenty to be optimistic about though. Their team showed that they can create problems for any side and if they can improve their finishing, they will surely cause an upset or two in Group B.