Mario Gjurovski and Alexandre Gama go head-to-head for the third time this season when Buriram United host Muangthong United in the FA Cup quarter-final on Saturday.
Gama left the Kirins to join their rivals early in the season but, despite impressively leading Buriram to second place, he has yet to win against his former club.
In other ties, Muangkan United have the opportunity to upset Chiangrai United, Bangkok United and Ratchaburi clash at the Thammasat Stadium, while Chonburi will fancy their chances at home to Trat.
With direct entry to the group stage of AFC Champions League 2022 the prize for the tournament winners, the cup represents more than an opportunity for silverware.
Buriram United Vs Muangthong United
With Muangthong failing to mount a challenge for the T1 title in several years, there had seemed a danger that their rivalry with Buriram was being somewhat weakened. Compared to the days of fiery clashes that were sometimes decisive in the title race, there just wasn’t as much to get excited about.
However, all that has changed despite the fact that Muangthong have finished in their lowest ever T1 position (7th), 16 points behind Buriram. The Kirins’ 3-2 win at Buriram in September saw Gama’s successor Gjurovski celebrate wildly at the Chang Arena and when the Kirins twice hit back to secure a 2-2 draw at the SCG Stadium last month, Gama was clearly frustrated.
Gjurovski represents the upstart coach threatening the old master. Gama has won trophy after trophy in Thailand from his first spell at Buriram to his time at Chiangrai United. Gjurovski is 18 years younger and has just made a decent start in his first senior coaching position but based on Gama’s comments in the post-match press conference in their last meeting, the 35-year-old has got under his skin.
The personality clash between the flamboyance of Gjurovski and the more reserved Gama has added spice to a fixture with a history of thrilling matches. The 2-2 draw last time out was possibly the best match of the T1 season, featuring excellent goals and all kinds of drama.
It is all set up nicely for another thriller at the Chang Arena as Gama attempts to get the better of his young opponent, while Gjurovski will aim to take Muangthong closer to their first trophy since 2017 and lifting the FA Cup for the first time ever.
Chiangrai United Vs Muangkan United
Muangkan United are the last lower division team standing but their progress to the last eight has not been a huge surprise. The side from Kanchanaburi showed big ambitions at the start of the season by bringing in Thailand legend Suchao Nuchnum, his former Buriram United teammate Korawit Namwiset and veteran striker Bireme Diouf.
All three made a big impact as they helped Muangkan to earn promotion to T2. Reaching the last four of the FA Cup would be another significant achievement for the club.
However, they come up against a team that knows how to win trophies. Chiangrai won the FA Cup in 2017 and 2018, the League Cup in 2018 and the T1 title in 2019. They have a chance to ensure they do not end a season trophyless for the first time since 2016 and will surely be determined to reach the semifinal.
But Muangkan have a cup-winning head coach who knows how to beat the Beetles in a cup quarterfinal. When Jadet Meelarp was at Port FC last season, his side defeated Chiangrai 3-2 in the last eight on their way to winning the trophy. It is a big ask for a repeat at his new club but that experience might give them a chance.
Bangkok United Vs Ratchaburi
Bangkok United’s defeat to Chiangrai United in the 2017 final was one of a number of near-misses in the second half of the 2010s. They have a chance to kickoff the new decade by ending a long wait for a major trophy.
The Bangkok Angels ended the T1 campaign strongly and will be slight favourites against a Ratchaburi side that were in indifferent form as the league season drew to a close.
Bangkok United’s Heberty Fernandes comes up against his former club and will be determined to demonstrate that he remains one of the top attacking talents in the country. It is also the perfect stage for striker Nattawut Suksum to again highlight the form that has made him one of the breakthrough stars of the season.
Ratchaburi will pose a significant threat but they depend heavily upon the creativity of Steeven Langil and the goals of Philip Roller. If that pair do not hit top form, Bangkok United could win comfortably.
Chonburi Vs Trat
Both sides ended their T1 campaigns with a whimper and on a combined 17-match winless streak. One of them has to come out on top in this one but it would be more down to a favourable draw than form.
Chonburi look to have the stronger attacking options and, having finished the T1 season 15 points above Trat, the Sharks are the more likely victors. It has been almost 11 years since the fallen giants of Thai football won a major honour, and the fans need hope that things might turn around after a 12th place T1 finish – their worst ever placing.
But Chonburi need to rediscover their cutting edge, having scored just twice in the last six league games.
For relegated Trat, this is an opportunity to end a generally dismal season on a high note as they prepare for life in T2. In Ricardo Santos, they have an in-form striker who could help his side cause an upset.