Kelvin Leong applauds Marcello Lippi’s game-changing substitutions as Thailand bow out of the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Thailand were in seventh heaven after taking a 1-0 lead into the break but China PR came storming back to record a 2-1 win to seal their spot in the quarterfinal of the continental showpiece event.
Youngster Supchai Jaided opened the scoring on 31 minutes before substitute Xiao Zhi made it 1-1 before Gao Lin scored the winner from the spot in the 71st minute.
Here are five major talking points from the game…
Big coaches paid to make big decisions
His side were not delivering in the first half and he allowed the same 11 players to head out for the second period.
19 minutes into the second half, Marcello Lippi had seen enough and made a double substitution with Xiao Zhi and Jin Jingdao coming on for the ineffective Yu Dabao and Liu Yang.
What a change it turned out to be as the duo needed less than three minutes to drag their team back on level terms before taking the lead on 71 minutes.
Lippi has traveled the world and is widely regarded as one of the best managers in the game. On this night, the Italian tactician silenced doubters and claimed a small personal victory with his astute decisions.
Thailand must be wary of sluggish starts
The War Elephants’ biggest problem all tournament has been their sluggish start to matches. In their Group A opener against India, they didn’t quite get going in the opening 15 and it allowed their opponents to gain confidence.
Against U.A.E, they paid the price for a poor start and allowed Ali Mabkhout to open the scoring in the seventh minute for the hosts before fighting back to claim a 1-1 draw.
With China looking energetic in the opening exchanges, Thailand once again ceded possession to the Chinese and allowed them to take control of the game. Thitipan Puangchan’s yellow card in the eighth minute wad a culmination of that lethargic start.
If Thailand are serious about matching the big boys in the region, they must learn to dominate proceedings from the get go instead of mounting superb comebacks only when they are on the back foot.
China must find Zheng Zhi’s successor
For a country of China’s size, surely, there must be a dozen central midfielders who can step into the national team.
But clearly, the success of the Chinese Super League has not improved the national team’s prospects as 38-year-old midfield general is still tasked with the armband in midfield.
Zheng may have played for the likes of Charlton Athletic and Scottish giants Celtic but that was almost a decade ago.
Yes, he did rally the troops to a superb second-half comeback but in all honesty, the Chinese need a new leader in the middle of the park. There is only that much more they can squeeze out of the battle-hardened warrior.
Thai boy wonder must control emotions
Supachai Jaided only came into the lineup due to Ultraman’s injury but what a fairytale story for the 20-year-old wonder kid.
The Buriram United man took one touch off a misguided Thitiphan shot and that swizzle was enough to give him space to slot the ball beyond Yan Junling to shock Marcello Lippi’s stars.
His maturity beyond his years has made everyone take him for granted but if you look back at his short career, Supachai only received his first senior call-up in October last year!
The only negativity about his game is his rash nature. Could have received his marching orders in the first half for retaliation.
If the AFF SuzukI Cup 2018 was his breakthrough moment, Asian Cup 2019 might just become the tournament that earns him a contract to play in the J-League like many of his national teammates.
Thailand’s campaign over before it even started
There were ramblings in the Thai football fraternity that head coach Rajevac had lost the dressing room during the Suzuki Cup.
A slew of big-name players were left out of his squad for the regional competition and they went into the Asian Cup on the back of a poor Suzuki cup campaign.
While the big boys from Japan like Chanathip Songkrasin, Theerathon Bunmanthan and Teerasil Dangda returned to action, the Thai team didn’t quite look like their usual happy selves.
Alas, Rajevac was ousted after their opening defeat against India and the team rallied together and got to the last 16, but in truth, the tournament was lost even before they boarded the plane.
Having said that, Thailand have shown once again that they are still one of Southeast Asia’s top footballing nations and if they continue to build on that, an Asian Cup miracle might just happen sooner or later.