Thailand dropped vital points in their must-win game against Indonesia on Thursday, as they were pegged back twice and held to a 2-2 draw. The War Elephants now need to win their subsequent games against the UAE and Malaysia respectively to have any chance of going through to the third round of World Cup qualifying.
In this piece, we look at five things that Thailand and their head coach Akira Nishino can take away from their performance against Indonesia.
1 – The Stakes are Too High to Gamble
There is frankly no justification for the starting XI Nishino put out on Thursday. Instead of fielding his strongest side, the renowned ‘tinkerman’ made significant changes, fielding fringe and barely-fit players in place of established stars, presumably with the UAE game in mind. If this was indeed the true reasoning, it was an incredible disrespect to a rejuvenated Indonesia side. Furthermore, by not winning this both winnable and must-win game, the Japanese coach has piled the pressure on both himself and his team with avoidable mistakes.
2 – Don’t Underestimate Indonesia
The Garuda finally got their first point of the campaign, and look a transformed side under the guidance of coach Shin Tae-Yong in his first competitive senior international game. Regardless of Thailand’s struggles, limiting the War Elephants to just four shots on target for the whole 90 minutes is no easy feat for a team spending most of their time in a deep block. It is quite possible that Indonesia could spring a few more surprises before the campaign is over.
3 – Dynamic Asnawi Left Unfit Ekanit Chasing Shadows
Asnawi Mangkualam, the Garuda’s dynamic right-back, was part of the Indonesia U22 squad that faced Thailand in the AFF Youth Championship a couple of years back. He recently moved abroad to the K League 2 and has been in red hot form with Ansan Greeners. Surely, he was a player the Thai coaching had highlighted before the match.
However, the fact that Ekanit, a player who missed most of the season due to multiple niggling injuries, was given the nod in the starting XI suggests might have suggested otherwise. Asnawi, full of pace and flair, was often left challenged as he surged forward to support Egy Maulana Vikri, another talented youngster, in the attack. Ekanit’s inability to catch up with his direct opposition meant Ernesto Phumipha, Thailand’s left-back debutant, was isolated and many times outnumbered by Asnawi and Egy. Indonesia’s threat down their right-flank pushed the Thai defence back deeper with every attacking wave, and that ultimately earned Shin Tae Yong’s men their much-deserved goal.
4 – Terrific Thanawat
The Leicester City youngster played his first competitive game for the War Elephants last night, and was arguably the best player on the pitch in a team largely devoid of creativity. He showed great composure to keep the ball in dangerous areas, and was the most willing to take the initiative and push the team forward despite being the youngest player in the Starting XI. If Thai fans are looking for positives to take away from last night, Thanawat’s performance may be the most signifiant among them.
5 – Bihr Struggles Alongside Unfamiliar Face
Thailand’s centre-back pairing Manuel Bihr and Suphan Thongsong received heavy criticism for a performance which saw the War Elephants throw away their lead twice. The lack of understanding between Bihr and Suphan was there for everyone to see. And that might have something to do with the fact that last night’s game was the first time Bihr had to pair up with Suphan in a competitive tournament.
The last time the Thai defence came under heavy criticism was in the away defeat to Malaysia in late 2019 – with Bihr partnering Elias Dolah. Knowing this, perhaps it’s unfair to throw Bihr, who many regard as Thailand’s first-choice centre-back, under the bus. Thus far, Pansa has been ideal for Bihr, and Thailand should play them together whenever possible. As for a new possible centre-back pairing, it would be wiser for Nishino and the coaching team to test them out beforehand in friendlies.