Sixteen teams remain in the hunt for the FA Cup, and all but two of them will be playing their first games of 2021 in these crucial knockout ties. With a chance at winning this season’s only domestic cup on the line, as well as an automatic place in the AFC Champions League, the stakes are higher than ever.
Here are three games to keep an eye on this evening.
1 – Port FC vs Buriram United
Arguably the round’s stand-out tie, both Buriram and Port would have hoped to go deep into the competition, but only one will remain after tonight’s clash at the PAT Stadium.
The visitors will be expected to finally field all their new foreign recruits in what is shaping up to be a formidable lineup. Samuel Rosa Goncalves, Maicon Marques and Brandon O’Neill already made their maiden appearances for the Thunder Castle in the last league game of 2020, and defender Digao could follow suit this evening. Going all the way in the FA Cup will likely be coach Alexandre Gama’s main priority this season, as the Thunder Castle look to redeem themselves after a trophy-less campaign last season and book a ticket to the group stage of 2022’s AFC Champions League.
Meanwhile, confidence will be high at the PAT Stadium after the resilience shown to pull off a comeback against Chiangrai on Sunday evening. The squad is deep enough to alleviate any concerns of fatigue, and coach Sarawut Treephan is spoiled for choice in attacking areas. The real question for the Klongtoei side is in defense, as the formidable duo of Elias Dolah and Worawut Namvech have curiously been replaced by Adisorn Promrak and Tanaboon Kesarat in recent weeks.
Port have not beaten Buriram in any competition since April 2014, and have lost 8 of their last 11 games against them. Tonight is a perfect time to correct that record, but with the so much riding on this competition, the Thunder Castle will be as committed as ever to ensuring that doesn’t happen.
2 – Muangthong United vs Samut Prakan City
When these two sides met in the Thai League back in September, the game was a tight and cagey affair which ended goalless at the SCG Stadium. However, both teams have changed significantly since then, and this is likely to be a very different encounter this time around.
Muangthong have undergone the more dramatic and radical shift, adopting a far more attacking approach under new coach Mario Gjurovski. The side have created the most goal-scoring chances per game since his arrival, but are yet to keep a clean sheet under his stewardship. However, Muangthong’s young side raised their game in the last round, eliminating league leaders and strong favourites BG Pathum United against the odds with a gritty and disciplined defensive display. The return of Lucas Rocha and Saringkan Promsupa to their backline will also be a huge boost for the Kirin.
On the other hand, it has been a case of evolution rather than revolution for Masatada Ishii’s Samut Prakan City. The Japanese boss was careful to lay down the defensive foundations for his side first, and has slowly introduced a more energetic and enterprising style. The Sea Fang ended 2020 with five straight wins, looking emphatic and convincing in the process. There seems to be a growing consensus that a top four finish is not impossible for the side, and fans will be understandably be hoping for a cup run as well.
3 – Muangkan United vs Nongbua Pitchaya FC
The only Round of 16 matchup to not feature a T1 team sees two of the most ambitious and exciting teams in Thai football’s lower tiers go head to head, and is worth keeping an eye on. With an eight point lead over their nearest rivals in T2, Nongbua Pitchaya see the FA Cup as a chance to test themselves against the opponents they will likely be facing next season. The Gamecocks made a huge statement of intent by eliminating top-flight Prachuap in the last round, announcing themselves as a formidable prospect.
Meanwhile, T3 outfit Muangkan comfortably won the league’s West Division and are now vying for promotion in the “Champions League” playoffs. The side also recently made headlines by hiring former Port FC and Chonburi boss Jadet Meelarp as their head coach, and have invested heavily in their squad which now boasts experienced top-division veterans such as Suchao Nuchnum and Bireme Diouf. Similar to Nongbua, a strong cup-run would be a perfect way to demonstrate that their ambitions of making it to the big time are not all talk.
There is a real possibility that the winner of this match could be the only non-T1 club in the last eight, and it would be a statement which both clubs would love to make.