The War Elephants are now out of the running for a place in the third round of 2022 World Cup qualifying after their 3-1 defeat at the hands of the United Arab Emirates on Monday evening. The side conceded two in the first half courtesy of Caio and Fabio Lima , but remained in the game and striker Suphanat Mueanta pulled one back in the second half. However, it ultimately wasn’t enough for Thailand, who were hit with a late sucker-punch and consigned to defeat.
Thailand will now have to content themselves with a place in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifying, though they have one final encounter against Malaysia to look forward to before the current campaign is over.
Here are five things we learned from Thailand’s most recent defeat.
1 – Nishino the Ideologue
Thailand’s qualification hopes were on the line in this game, and Nishino decided to stick with the players and system he knew best. Despite the major offensive threat the hosts posed, the Japanese coach persisted with an attack-minded front four and omitted to deploy a defensive minded-player in his midfield pivot. Additionally, the composition of his front four – Ekanit, Supachok, Supachai and Suphanat – are the same players he relied on in the AFC U23 Championships in 2020. This shows that when he’s in a pinch, Nishino will return to what he knows best. Whether he was right or wrong is easy to say in hindsight, but its certainly an interesting observation on its own merits.
2 – Defensive Communication is a Major Issue
Nishino remained patient and persisted with the centre-back pairing of Manuel Bihr and Suphan Thongsong. But, just like their previous outing, Bihr and Suphan seem to be communicating on a different wavelength – likely due to the lack of experience playing alongside one another.
Suphan’s poor clearance header, which gifted the UAE’s opener, was a direct result of the centre-back’s dearth of cohesion. A similar mistake repeated itself moments later when Bihr and Sarach Yooyen got caught challenging for the same aerial ball. Sarach’s deflected header played Ali Mabkhout through, but Siwarak Tedsungnoen was there to parry the shot wide. You can’t coach all your players to be the fastest man in football. But we can coach players to be good teammates, to operate as a unit and weed out careless mistakes.
3 – High Pressing is a Viable Option
The War Elephants pressed aggressively for most of the game, and were able to force the UAE into ceding possession on many occasions as a result. While developing and honing this approach will still take time, this game provides some promising signs which suggest that Thailand could benefit from committing to this style of play in the long run. It was also a welcome change for a side which had previously been accused of lacking dynamism, intensity and fighting spirit.
4 – Thitipan is Crucial
The BG Pathum United captain returned to the side after being absent in the Indonesia game and made a considerable difference in the middle of the park. His leadership helped improve the side’s organisation and the team’s intense press was enabled by his energy and willingness to run. Thitipan can contribute well both offensively and defensively, and this versatility makes him an extremely valuable asset for Thailand. After being relatively ‘frozen out’ under Nishino, with only two starts in seven qualifying games, seeing him back in the side and playing to his strengths was one of the few positives from last night’s performance.
5 – Questionable Opposition Scouting
Against the hosts, Thailand started the match with intensity and looked capable of producing an upset. Still, it was Bert van Marwijk’s team that got the goal and can claim to have the better half. Though it is somewhat because UAE adopted a counter-attacking approach in the second half, Thailand improved after the break.
This has become a pattern, which hints at Nishino’s teams’ nature to perform better in the final 45 minutes. As an outsider, information on decision making is hard to come by, if ever at all. For all the criticism about his team selection, Nishino’s substitutions tend to work out, which might suggest a weakness in the coaching staff’s match preparation ability. Get plan A right, and Thailand can avoid having to chase the game all the time.