Akira Nishino’s latest Thailand squad featured a few surprises but what does it final national team call-up tell us about the direction of the War Elephant?
Akira Nishino’s previous national team call-up, a wet and miserable game against a second-tier club side, included 13 new faces and, with the 4 J League-based players not selected, it seems Nishino will continue to experiment with future talents rather than trying to perfect Thailand’s strongest XI.
The core squad members from the 2020 AFC U23 champions plus a couple of the senior players is still present while Tanachai Boonrach (Nakhonratchasima FC), Chatmongkol Ruengrattaroj (Chonburi FC) and Kiatisak Jia-udom (Ratchaburi FC) are the 3 lucky new additions who could make their senior debut on the 14th of November.
Tanachai Boonrach is 28 (pretty young for a goalkeeper), Kiatisak Jia-udom is 25 while Chatmongkol Ruengrattaroj only 18. Goalkeeper Kwanchai Suklom and centre-back Pawee Tanthatemee, 25 and 24 respectively, were subsequently called-up after the first official announcement.
On the other hand, attacking midfielder Sumanya Purisai and striker Adisak Kraisorn are examples of players in their 30s and late-20s that was overlooked by Nishino despite performing well over the past months.
Nishino seems to base his choice on game time at club level and, perhaps the most important factor, age. With 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification is yet to be rescheduled, the opposition is an all-star team and not an international side, and with rumours of Thailand sending a “young” squad to compete in next year’s AFF Suzuki, it makes sense for Nishino to test out the national pool.
A hint at a back-3 formation?
Jakkapan Praisuwan (Samut Prakan City), Manuel Bihr (Bangkok United) and Thitawee Aksornsri (Port FC) were the only 3 centre-back chosen by Nishino before Pawee Tanthatemee (Ratchaburi FC) was later added.
Nishino reluctancy to include defenders may hint at a possible back-3 formation. Something which is clear when you consider countless options who can play as wingbacks and the 5 strikers in the squad which would allow Nishino to fill the 2 striker slot that often comes as a result of a back-3 formation.
Lack of (natural) option at left-wing
Apart from Nishino’s willingness to experiment, one reason why the boss may try and opted for a back-3 may be due to lack of natural option at left-wing.
No Thai players have registered as many assists as Samut Prakan City’s Jaroensak Wonggorn (5) and the 23 years old is presumably the first-choice right-winger in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation – a role he excelled under Nishino in the AFC U23 Championship. However, Jaroensak is far less dangerous on the opposite flank mainly because he lacks the ability to navigate in tight spaces once he cuts inside onto his stronger right foot.
Anon Amornlerdsak (Bangkok United) was Nishino’s first-choice right-winger during the AFC U23 Championship earlier this year but the 23 years old generally operate more like an attacking midfielder, preferring to drift inside to create chances, and thus not an ideal option if the side want to create width.
Phanuphong Phonsa (Chonburi FC) is another candidate for the position but like Anon, he leans more toward a midfield type and doesn’t offer the pace or take on ability Anon or Jaroensak does. Chonburi FC can field 2 out-and-out strikers and a marauding right-back thanks to Phanuphong selflessness and positional discipline as a right-midfielder, thereby making him the most conservative option compared to Anon and Jaroensak. Still, Phanuphong is unconvincing playing on the left or as a wingback.
If we misread things and Nishino choose to, for example, stuck with the conventional 4-2-3-1 formation then one of the forward may be use on the left though Sittichok Paso is somewhat the only one capable playing wide.
Saturday’s result won’t affect Thailand’s FIFA ranking, the main objective of this match is to keep the national team in the spotlight, so there is no real incentive for Nishino to win. Even without some big names, there is an abundance of attacking talents in the Thai League All-stars which should be a great test for the Thai defenders. A back-3 formation with wingbacks would be the most sensible route considering the made up of the squad and if Nishino wants to rotate his players throughout the match.
On paper, there is little to get excited about this game, the J League-base stars are not here while many domestic members are stuck with club duty. Yet, if we lower our expectation just slightly and view this game as one massive open-trainning session then it might makes for a more enjoying weekend.
Apart from 2-3 key names, most of these players won’t make it into Nishino’s current XI. However, considering their age, if they can perform well with the pressure of the public’s eye, then they might have a chance with the War Elephant in the future.