Madagascar’s Baggio is the leading man in Mano’s All-Star cast

Sukhothai’s John Baggio looks the pick of players when Mano Polking’s Thai League All-Star side take on Akira Nishino’s Thailand in an intriguing friendly clash at the Rajamangala Stadium on Saturday.

Baggio has been on fire this year and the crowd will be looking for him to repeat his T1 form on a different stage. 

Both squads have been depleted by the unavailability of players from several clubs in addition to the unwillingness of some to release their players at a critical juncture in the season.

A number of sides are currently battling it out for 2021 AFC Champions League (ACL) qualification, while Chiangrai United’s 2020 ACL commitments have seen a few matches rescheduled.

Chiangrai, Muangthong United, Buriram United, Rayong and Sukhothai were exempt from this FIFA Day training camp, but the latter two clubs have representation among the All-Stars, including Baggio.

Here are five all-star players to look out for on Saturday.

  1. In-form Baggio takes centre stage

Like a modern-day Matt Le Tissier, John Baggio surprises everyone with his loyalty to one club when his ability would grace any team in T1.

The Malagasy magician has been at Sukhothai since 2015 and every season he torments opponents in a manner that few other players can match. The Fire Bats may have struggled to survive in most of their seasons in the top tier, but Baggio has never struggled to impress.

The 28-year-old was outstanding again in Sukhothai’s 2-0 victory over Chiangrai United on Tuesday as he and strike partner Ibson Melo combined for both goals. Unfortunately, Melo picked up an injury in the process of scoring in the match, denying fans the opportunity to see them link up again.

However, all eyes will be on one of T1’s top talents when Polking’s side take the field on Saturday. Baggio is the currently the league’s top scorer on 10 goals and few would bet against him finding the net again if he gets the opportunity.

  1. Fit-again Maruoka aims to make his mark

Former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Mitsuru Maruoka made an immediate impact at BG Pathum United in September. His smart through ball found Chenrop Samphaodi at the PAT Stadium and the striker slammed home the winning goal in a vital victory.

But injuries have since hampered the Japanese star’s ability to help his BG teammates in their seemingly relentless quest for the title. The 24-year-old has a big opportunity to revive his career with a successful stint in Thailand and he will certainly welcome the opportunity to shine in such a high profile fixture. 

Maruoka may be partnered in midfield by BG teammate Chaowat Veerachat. It will be interesting to see if they can combine to good effect – an opportunity denied them so far at BG.

  1. William looking for a lift

William Henrique needs no introduction to Thai League fans but the William that has been seen in the colours of Prachuap this season has borne only a fleeting resemblance to the player that helped Chiangrai United to the title last year. 

William’s rampaging runs and unpredictable style made him a nightmare for opponents in 2019, and he built up an excellent understanding with fellow Brazilian Bill in a deadly attacking duo.

There have been several rumours that the 28-year-old may be on the move again during next month’s transfer window. If he is keen on finding a new club, this may be the perfect opportunity to remind everyone of how good he can be on his day.

  1. Captain Dragan leads ageing attack

‘Experienced’ would be a euphemistic way to describe the forward line assembled by the All-Star side. Seven players have been named as attackers, all of them over the age of 30.

34-year-old Dragan Boskovic is a great example for those that seek longevity in Thailand as he approaches eight years in the country, having featured for Suphanburi, Bangkok United and Port FC. 

Now at Chonburi, Boskovic continues to impress and has had a key role in the Sharks solid start to the season. He may not be the prolific goal scorer he was a few years ago, but the Montenegrin remains 100 per cent committed every time he is on the pitch.

  1. Chalermpong’s Rajamangala return

Chalermpong Kerdkaew was the unlikely Thailand skipper under Milovan Rajevac and somewhat unfairly dismissed as one of the flawed choices of the Rajevac era once the Serbian head coach had left.

Under Kiatisuk Senamuang, Thailand had played some thrilling football but were undone against stronger teams due to defensive weaknesses. Rajevac saw the unheralded Chalermpong as the type of no-frills defender and on-field leader that the War Elephants needed.

From relative obscurity, he won his first cap at the age of 30 and skippered his country at the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup at the age of 32. While it was something of a fairytale rise late in his career, there would be no fairytale ending as Rajevac’s dismissal at the 2019 Asian Cup quickly spelled the end of Chalermpong’s international career.

But the centre-back continues to captain Nakhon Ratchasima in T1 and on Saturday returns to the scene of one of the proudest moments of his career.

Paul Murphy

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