Zico: Thailand may be out, but we are certainly not down

The dream of reaching a maiden World Cup is as good as over for Thailand following a 3-0 loss at home to Saudi Arabia last Thursday, but there’s plenty for the War Elephants still to play for.

Already assured of a berth at the 2019 Asian Cup, the squad is aiming to use their four remaining qualifiers as part of the buildup to that tournament.

As newly re-signed national coach Kiatisuk Senamuang told FOX Sports Asia (FSA) in this exclusive chat on the eve of their clash with Japan, Thailand also want to show that they belong at a higher level as the continue to fly the flag for all of Southeast Asia.

FSA: The dream of World Cup qualification is over but you still have four very big matches to come – what’s do you want to see from the team over those games?

KS: Actually, we want to keep trying to improve the national team so that we can play at this high level in Asia and to make sure that the gap is not too far – that’s my target.

In Thailand we’re improving in terms of our local league which is now very good and we have so many good players and we want to show that and now we have to try and show what we can do, what Thai football is all about, over these matches.

We know it’s not easy for us but we have to try, that’s all we can do.

Thailand training in Saitama. Photos: Scott McIntyre

FSA: With the burden of qualification off the team now though does that mean that you can play with more freedom and perhaps express yourselves more on the pitch?

KS: No, we have no worries because already reaching this round is a bonus for us.

We are an ASEAN nation and we are representatives of that region and we play not only for Thailand but we play for the whole region and for all ASEAN nations.

We want to make sure that all Southeast Asian nations can keep improving because there hasn’t been one from the region that has reached the World Cup and Thailand has shown good performances, I think, given the gap in level and we want to make sure we keep going on the same track and make things stable.

FSA: How can you beat Japan – do you need to sit and look to counter or do you perhaps try and be more aggressive from the start?

KS: I’ve already spoken to the players and said that if we can take one or even three points from this match then that will be a great memory for us, something that will live with the players for years to come.

The key though for us is to come with a strong mentality, a fighting mentality and of course we must make sure that we are disciplined and keep our shape and yes, we have to try and be positive and attack.

If we don’t attack we can’t score, that’s obvious, but the key for us is to keep that positive mentality because in football anything is possible.

FSA: With your midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin coming to play in Japan from the middle of the year there will be a lot of focus of him but would you like to see more players coming to the bigger leagues such as the J.League and is this match on Tuesday a chance to showcase some of those players?

KS: Sure, we want to make sure that those opportunities exist and we are always telling the players that if the chance comes you must go to play overseas.

It’s good experience not just for the individual players but also for the national team if the players can go overseas, then they can bring those experiences with them back to Thailand and help to make the national team stronger.

FSA: Your captain, Teerathon Bunmathan, is suspended for the Japan match, how much of a blow is that?

KS: No, it’s not an issue at all; we don’t mind about individual players rather we focus only on the tactical aspects and we know that the most important thing is to play together as a group and to show that unity on the pitch; if we do that then I’m confident we can play well.