The War Elephants have been touted by many to be arguably India’s easiest opponents in the group.
In a highly-competitive Group A, Thailand are the underdogs. The South East Asian side have the lowest FIFA ranking in the group, but their current form tells a different story. They have managed to qualify for the Asian Cup after missing out in 2011 and 2015 and will be looking to make a mark this time around. The side have a rich history in the tournament, a third place in 1972 being their best-ever finish. With their discipline and organization, Thailand will be looking to punch above their weight and Milovan Rajevac has a side that have the capability to do so.
Thailand failed to qualify for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup due to a dismal qualifying campaign. In the qualifiers, the War Elephants finished bottom of the group containing the likes of Iran, Kuwait and Lebanon after failing to win all six of their matches. The side finished with a goal difference of -14.
About The Team
Thailand head into the Asian Cup after having played the ASEAN Football Federation’s Suzuki Cup. The defending champions were their dominant best in the group stages emerging first in their group. However, the highly-favoured team stumbled in the semi-final against Malaysia on away goals. The War Elephants’ striker Adisak missed a crucial penalty late in the game, which led to the eventual surrender.
Thailand are looking forward to begin their campaign with a win
Despite going out to Malaysia, the tournament had a lot of positives for the young side, especially in the form of Pansa Hemviboon and Thitipan Puangchan. Striker Adisak Kraisorn, who missed what could have been the winner from the spot, in the semi-final finished as the top scorer in the tournament with eight goals. The Thai side did not lose a single match at the event.
Milovan Rajevac’s biggest achievement was taking Ghana to the quarterfinals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and losing out on a semi-final spot due to the infamous Luis Suarez handball and a dismal penalty shootout. He was appointed as the head coach of Thailand in April 2017, following the resignation of Kiatisuk Senamuang after a disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign.
Under Rajevac, Thailand have emerged as a solid team
His first competitive game saw Thailand draw at home against the United Arab Emirates. Under him the War Elephants retained the King’s Cup in July 2017, overcoming the likes of North Korea and Belarus. The Serbian has managed to create a disciplined and organized side, aided by a quick and decisive counter-attack. He has managed to address the defensive frailties and his side have shown remarkable maturity.
The War Elephants lost the 2018 King’s Cup final to Slovakia, but all signs point to a healthier and more solid system.
Goalkeepers: Chatchai Bootprom (BG Pathum United), Saranon Anuin (Chiangrai United), Siwarak Tedsungnoen (Buriram United)
Defenders: Theerathon Bunmathan (Muangthong United), Chalermpong Kerdkaew (Nakhon Ratchasima), Adisorn Promrak (Muangthong United), Pansa Hemviboon (Buriram United), Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri (Buriram United), Suphan Thongsong (Suphanburi), Mika Chunuonsee (Bangkok United), Tristan Do (Bangkok United)
Midfielders: Sasalak Haiprakhon (Buriram United), Sumanya Purisai (Bangkok United), Thitipan Puangchan (BG Pathum United), Sanrawat Dechmitr (Bangkok United), Tanaboon Kesarat (PG Pathum United), Chanathip Songkrasin (Consadole Sapporo), Pokklaw Anan (Bangkok United)
Forwards: Adisak Kraisorn (Muangthong United), Teerasil Dangda (Muangthong United), Chananan Pombuppha (Suphanburi), Siroch Chatthong (PT Prachuap), Supachai Jaided (Buriram United)
Players To Watch
Watch: Adisak Kraisorn would be an integral part of Thailand in the AFC Asian Cup
One of the biggest takeaways for Thailand, from the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2018, was Adisak Kraisorn. With their main striker Teerasil Dangda unavailable for the tournament last year, the onus was on Kraisorn to lead the attack. The Muangthong United striker scored eight goals in six matches, banging in six against Timor-Leste.
However, he quickly went from hero to villain when he missed the decisive penalty against Malaysia in the quarterfinal. He will be looking to bolster his reputation with strong performances in the AFC Asian Cup. The 27-year-old will be a key figure in attack and will look to link-up with Dangda to terrorize opposition defenses.
What To Expect
Thailand are the lowest ranked team in Group A. However, with the current form they are in, the War Elephants can’t be written off. Under Rajevac they are known to pull off hard results and it would be no surprise to see them progress from the group.
With a strong and disciplined squad and a master tactician at the helm, Thailand is no underdog. They will hope to start on the right note when they face India in the first game of the campaign on 6th January. Progression to the knockout stages will be their goal.