Played five, won five, scored 12, conceded just two — Thailand have strolled into the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup final without much fuss.
The group stage was won with a game to spare. The semi-final was pretty much over at the end of the first leg when Thailand won 2-0 in Myanmar before going onto to take the tie 6-0 on aggregate on Thursday evening in Bangkok.
The War Elephants have a path to the trophy that is looking smooth and clear. Nobody in Southeast Asia could deny that it would be a deserved triumph, a record fifth in the tournament.
The signs are ominous for Indonesia as they look ahead to the two-legged final. In the opening game of the tournament between these two teams, Thailand’s Teerasil Dangda scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win.
The striker now has five to his name but it is not just a question of stopping the Muangthong marksman, as dangerous as he undoubtedly is. If you focus too much on him, then there is Sarawat Masuk who is playing an increasingly influential role and is coming to the boil at the right time.
The Bangkok Glass man started the tournament on the bench but netted the only goals of both group games against Singapore and the Philippines.Starting against Myanmar on Thursday, he opened the scoring in the second leg to kill any faint hopes that the White Angels may have had of getting back in the game. The fact that it was a dynamic diving header off a teasing Theerathon Bunmathan cross just made it all the more delicious. The 24 year-old is developing a knack of scoring crucial goals.
Perhaps the most pleasing moment in the 4-0 second leg win for coach Kiatisuk Senamuang was the third goal from Siroch Chatthong. The big striker adds something different to the Thailand attack, his powerful presence makes for an intriguing juxtaposition to the fluid Thai tiki-taka pass and move groove that coach Zico has developed. In nine previous appearances however, the 24 year-old had failed to score and it was starting to become an issue.
But then he brushed aside a defender with 15 minutes remaining unleashed a powerful drive that flew into the back of the net. With the burden off his strong shoulders, Siroch may be a dangerous weapon in the final. A perfect night was capped by a fine goal from Chanathip Songkrasin, still the best player in the tournament.
It looks grim then for Indonesia. Without truly playing in top gear, Thailand have eased into the final. Yet, there is hope.
Thailand give you chances. There is a goal threat running throughout the team and they may have kept four successive clean sheets, but there will be opportunities in the 180 minutes of the final.
Myanmar should have scored at least a couple in Bangkok with a three-man defence giving too much space at times. Myo Ko Tun missed a great chance, Than Paing saw a shot cannon off the bar and Kawin Thamsatchanan made some excellent saves, once again. Singapore and the Philippines also can look back on their 1-0 losses and rue their missed chances.
Indonesia are the only team to have scored against the champions in the tournament. That game ended in a 4-2 defeat but Alfred Reidl’s men could have managed more. The win was deserved even if the scoreline flattered Thailand a little.
The Garudas possess pace and trickery down the wings that will ask questions of the impressive Tristan Do and Theerathon Bunmathan. These impressive wing-backs may have to do a little more defending and a little less attacking than usual. This could be the key to the two legs. The likes of Rizky Pora and Andik Vermansyah and Indonesia’s other pacy attacking players will be vital on the counter.
There is no doubt that Thailand are favourites. The best team in Southeast Asia has been the best team in this tournament. Yet they are not perfect, even if their record so far is.
Indonesia have hurt them already. It should not be forgotten that the opening game of this Suzuki Cup was their first competitive match since the last tournament two years ago. As the Merah Putih play more games together and become more cohesive as a unit, they should be stronger at home and in Bangkok than they were in the opening game.
The question will be how about Thailand? There is a feeling that the champions have not had to enter top gear yet. They may have to over the coming days if the trophy is to reside in Bangkok for a record fifth time.
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