Chiangrai United left it late against Tampines Rovers in their second group stage match, but a winning goal from Siwakorn Tiatrakul keeps them in the hunt for an unlikely spot in the knockout stages ahead of their back-to-back matches against Gamba Osaka.
The Northerners put up a valiant fight in their first game against K-League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai, but ultimately were unable to fight back from two goals down. Their game against Tampines Rovers, the most beatable opponent on paper, became a must-win clash for the side.
Chiangrai vs Tampines Match Recap
Chiangrai are now well known for playing conservatively, but their lineup managed to surprise even some of their most avid viewers. Ekanit Panya and Siwakorn Tiatrakul were left out in favor of Felipe and Akarawin Sawasdee alongside striker Bill. The more ‘defensive’ right wing-back Wasan Homsan kept his place, as did the midfield duo of Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul and Cho Ji-Hun, while Sarawut Inpaen came in for Shinnaphat Lee-Oh in central defence.
The game was a cagey affair, and Tampines Rovers created more in the opening stages. The most notable incident saw Yasir Hanapi’s deflected cross come off the woodwork, narrowly saving the Thai side from conceding early.
Chiangrai slowly grew into the game over the course of the half, and got the upper hand after the break with the introduction of Ekanit Panya. The 21-year-old winger created two shooting opportunities for himself with his well-timed runs and excellent dribbling, hitting the post on the second occasion. He was soon joined by Siwakorn and Chotipat Poomkaew as the Beetles began to take the game to their opponents.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 86th minute, as Bill’s hold-up play made time and space for Somkid Chamnarnsilp, whose low cross was turned in by Siwakorn at the near post in what turned out to be the decisive strike. Having rode their luck at times, the Beetles emerged with three crucial points.
As previously mentioned, many fans were confused by the omission of Chiangrai’s key creative players, who all came on in the second half. The side’s setup could have been a bet on their ability to win without those players, leaving them fresh and ready for the crucial clashes against Gamba. For a side known for its ‘pragmatism,’ it was an incredibly risky move – but one that could still pay off if the players in question and fitter and shaper for the upcoming match.
Despite facing nominally ‘weaker’ opposition, Chiangrai showed their opponents respect and started with their standard game plan of soaking up pressure and hitting Tampines on the counter. However, their goal only came after the Beetles decided to abandon that approach and take control of possession with their offensive substitutions.
Chiangrai vs Gamba Osaka Preview
The game against Gamba Osaka is likely to take the form of a ‘classic’ ACL match for Chiangrai, with the Thai side once again sitting back and hitting on the break. Exactly how it plays out could depend on how desperate Gamba are for all three points, and how jaded the side are from their two-goal fightback against Jeonbuk Hyundai.
The black-and-blues found the net twice in quick succession after going two goals behind, dispelling any worries that their poor J.League form may carry over into the competition. That point, coupled with their 2-0 win over Tampines Rovers in the first game, sees them take a place on top of Group H on goal difference.
Chiangrai could provide a different challenge for Gamba, whose ability to beat a solid side used to regularly defending in deep blocks has not been tested yet. Ekanit, Siwakorn, Felipe and Chotipat can all hurt the Japanese side on the counter-attack, though it’s expected that the Beetles will only have room for two of them in their starting lineup’s defensive shape.
It seems like Chiangrai need to win one of the games against Gamba in order to keep their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage alive. Two draws most likely won’t be enough for the Beetles personally, but it could do a big favour for the other Thai teams in the competition by preventing Gamba from accumulating points in the second-placed rankings should the Japanese side finish as the runner up in Group H.