Thursday, December 02, 2010


Too Soon For Thai Autopsy

To read the Thai media you would believe that the nation has a divine right to glory in the ASEAN region. All they have to do is to walk on the pitch and the other team should be quaking in in their pink and yellow boots yelling peace, peace.

Unfortunately for them folks the world ain't that simple. Football doesn't exist in a vacuum and other teams, rather awkwardly, don't always read the sensationalist drivel in the likes of Thai Rath and Khao Sod. (For an interesting look at the power cables behind the Thai printed media check out an excellent book by Duncan McCargo called I don't know.) Down here, in the real world, things don't always go according to plan. At least Thai plans.

Of course there are times when it is difficult to discern what the Thai plans are; beyond ASEAN domination. A booming Thai Premier League in 2009 was followed by what was possibly the longest pre season on record when some teams played almost as many friendlies as they did TPL games. Then throw in the AFC Cup, the FA Cup and the brand new League Cup and you get a fixture list that would have Sir Alex and Arsene moaning on a daily basis.

Everyone knew the ASEAN Football Federation Cup kicked off in the first week of December. So why the hell was a Cup Final arranged for a couple of days beforehand? It smacks of either overbearing arrogance, the Thais believe they don't need to prepare to beat their nearest neighbours, or childlike naivety. No friendlies since September?

Against Lao the Thais were obviously not at their best. Despite having something like a dozen efforts on goal! And that was an off day at the office! The Thais have long struggled to find the net on a regular basis even with talent like Teerasil Dangda, Teerathep Winothai, Pipat Thonnkanya and Sarayoot.

But 14 goal attempts, two goals, one disallowed and Therdsak Chaiman electing to go round the Lao goalkeper like he was a maypole instead of burying the bloody ball suggests a fine line between a convincing win, which would have had the Thais salivating and the ignomy of near defeat against Lao - the whipping boys who never read the script.

Lao players will never play that well collectively again in their whole careers. A tired Thai team, shorn of regulars and suffering from fatigue still managed a point, fortuitous or not, against a team playing beyond the limits of their ability. Lao played out of their skins. Will Thailand under perform again?

Thing is the signs have been there from Lao for a while now. In 2007 they led Indonesia for the best part of an hour before succumbing 3-1 and in the 2009 SEA Games they famously defeated Indonesia 2-0.

You can be sure Thai coach Bryan Robson will be working to get his talented squad back on track inspite of their tiredness. But he will rest assured that while form is temporary, class is permanent and they should bounce back

The Thai coaching staff may have concerns but it won't necessarily be about the squad and an off day at the office. The form of Sinthaweechai Hathairatnakool, who will I call by his former name of Kosin for the sake of brevity, looked patchy yesterday. Obviously the Chonburi keeper wasn't at fault for either of Laos' goals but he looked nervy going for high balls and in his distribution. Again everyone has a bad day at the office and when goalies do the problems are highlighted all the more because they ususally concede goals. But Kosin showed similar frailties earlier in the year playing for his club side on the occassions when I saw him. Dips or a trend?

History is full of tournaments where favourites have started slowly in the group stage yet build up a fine head of steam when it really counts. And Indonesian coach Alfred Riedl will be aware that teams that start with a flourish rarely continue that form all the way to the final and lifting the trophy.

It ain't over for Thailand, far from it, and on Saturday they have a chance to prove it. Problem is they are playing Malaysia, a wounded tiger if ever there was one, as desperate as the Thais for a quick fix to reassure their fans. Rajagopal would love to have Robson's problems!

Man, let's hope you are right that favourites are late-boomers in this kind of tournament..
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