Chonburi target end to trophy drought in FA Cup final

Chonburi are aiming to bring back the club’s glory days when they take on Chiangrai United in Sunday’s Thai FA Cup final at Thammasat Stadium.

The Sharks stunned Buriram United by beating them 2-1 in Wednesday’s semi-final and now have a chance to lift their first major trophy since they defeated Muangthong United 2-1 in the 2010 final.

But they have another tough task on their hands as the face serial trophy winners Chiangrai United. The Beetles are in their third final in four years, winning on both previous appearances in 2017 and 2018.

Here are three things to look out for in Sunday’s big match.

Stage is set for Worachit 

A few years ago, Worachit Kanitsribampen looked destined for great things. He was the most promising player to emerge from Chonburi’s highly rated academy and established himself as a first-team regular at the age of 19. 

However, his progress seemed to have stalled in the past couple of seasons and he periodically fell out of favour as Chonburi struggled for form. There were flashes of the mercurial ability of the attacking midfielder but rumour had it that Worachit was not putting in enough hard work to make the most of his talent.

Wednesday’s semi-final demonstrated just how good he can be at his best. Buriram struggled to get the ball off him as he excelled in tight spaces. He also grabbed the opening goal on a night when Chonburi showed the form they consistently failed to demonstrate in their worst ever T1 campaign. 

Now 23, Worachit has the perfect stage on which to suggest that he is not just another promising youngster who has lost direction. 

Final brings back memories of Bill’s 2018 masterclass

Chiangrai’s talismanic striker has been central to the club’s successes in the past three seasons. But it was at the 2018 Thai FA Cup final that his legend really began to take shape.

Bill had arrived from Ratchaburi in mid-season, having cut an unimpressive figure at the Dragons, appearing out of shape and making little impact. He was a man transformed by his move up north and the season-ending spectacle saw him single-handedly defeat Buriram United as his hat-trick sealed a 3-2 victory.

The 36-year-old Brazilian has continued to drag Chiangrai United to success and he has again made the difference in tight matches. His double at home to Muangkan United took the Beetles to the last four and then his brilliant diving header earned Chiangrai a 2-1 victory in a very close semi-final against Bangkok United.

Chiangrai have a solid core of players that have contributed to the haul of four trophies in the last three years. But arguably no one has been as crucial to the success in that time as Bill.

Chonburi’s youthful enthusiasm faces biggest challenge

Chonburi started the season with several players in their mid-thirties padding out a squad that appeared to lack depth. However, they end the season with the emergence of several exciting young talents giving hope of a brighter future. 19-year-olds Channarong Promsikaew and Songchai Porncham and 18-year-old Chatmongkol Rueangthanarot all starred in Wednesday’s victory over Buriram and will surely start again if fully fit.

Head coach Sasom Pobprasert showed great faith in this trio in the semi-final and was rewarded. Such precocious talents can often be inconsistent so there might be an element of risk but changing a winning side is equally risky.

In addition to these three youngsters, Chonburi also had 22-year-old Kritsada Kaman, 23-year-old Saharat Sontisawat, along with the aforementioned Worachit (23). The oldest player in the starting lineup was striker Eliandro at 30.

It is a long way from the start of the season, when Teerathep Winothai (35) and Dragan Boskovic (34) were expected to play a key role, while veterans Kazuto Kushida and Adul Lahso returned to the club. All four have since departed as more faith is put in youth. This promises to be a huge challenge for the young players but a cup victory could be the making of them and prompt a resurgence at a club that has spent the last five years in the doldrums. 

Paul Murphy

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