After much anticipation ahead of the tournament, Thailand under-23’s opening match in the AFC U23 Asian Cup qualification ended in an anticlimactic manner as Worrawoot Srimaka’s men threw away an early lead to finish the game 1-1 against host Mongolia.
Winger Jakkit Palapon put the War Elephants ahead after a brilliant ball into the six-yard box from Leicester City’s Thanawat Suengchitthawon. Worrawoot was forced into making early substitutions due to Ben Davis and Wanchat Choosong’s injuries – the latter now confirmed to be sidelined for the rest of the tournament.
The Blue Wolves gradually grew into the game and ultimately pegged one back in the 75th minute via Baljinnyam’s long-range hit before the match ended with a point shared.
Only the top four second-placed teams from eleven groups will qualify for the tournament’s final round in Uzbekistan. Thailand will face South-East Asian opponents Laos and Malaysia, respectively, as the pressure to top the Group J rises following matchday one draw.
Here are four talking points following a cold and disappointing morning in Ulaanbaatar.
Fine first impression from Khemdee.
Let’s begin on a positive note, which comes in the form of debutant Jonathan Khemdee. Apart from being tall and half-Thai-half-Danish, not much was known about the 19-year-old centre-back from Odense BK. Words from inside the training camp described Khemdee as a “modern centre-back who can play out from the back”, and Khemdee did not disappoint when the time came to show everyone what he’s all about.
Despite being new to the squad, Khemdee was one of the most vocal players on the pitch and showed zero signs of shyness as he shouted out commands from the heart of the Changsuek’s backline.
Khemdee kept things simple when it needed to be but was also comfortable playing vertical passes to advance play or muscled his way away from the opposition’s challenges.
There were a few minor errors here and there (i.e. poor headed clearance in the 14th minute, other miscommunication with teammates etc.), but that is to be expected from a new player, coming into a new team, with a new head coach, following instructions under a new environment. Overall, I think we can agree that it’s been a fine debut from Khemdee. Let’s see whether he can build from this performance and where his stock will be after two more matches.
Incompetent substitutions decision from Worrawoot Srimaka
Losing two starters with the first thirty minutes of the game is a knock to any head coach’s game plan. The situation compelled Worrawoot Srimaka and the team to make a quick decision on the spot, you can’t plan for moments like these, and we understand substitutions don’t always work out.
Yet, one would expect the head coach to opt for a more like-for-like change and, at the minimum, play the substitute in his preferred position; Sittha Boonlha is a case in point.
On the latest Thai League Central Podcast episode, we’ve discussed how Sittha Boonlha stylistically resembles a number six midfielder, i.e. someone who plays at the base of the midfield. This profile description of the youngster is also shared by Pau Garnatje, FA Thailand’s Methodology Director and Ekkono Method Licensed Coach. Therefore, it was quite a surprise when Worrawoot threw the 17 years old on behind striker Korawich Tasa.
Sittha returned to the bench at half-time, replaced by Tawan Khotrsupho, who also failed to make significant impact on the game from open-play.
No one from the outside knows if this was a gamble or plain irrational thinking. But what is clear is that Worrawoot had wasted a substitute slot that could have been used to tighten things up when Thailand had the lead or up the pace for the 2-1 winning goal.
With only two games remaining, it would be wise for Worrawoot not to repeat any more preposterous substitutions.
Give Mongolia some credit!
Mongolia is not the most prominent football nation; we got that. Still, the players and coaching staff deserve praise for their discipline performance. The host knew they had to be solid. They kept a compacted shape out of possession, got stuck in when tackling, and pressed Thailand near the touchline with excellent coordination.
In attack, Mongolia would often go for the direct route by hitting a long vertical pass into the feet or head of their target man and, by default skipping the Thai midfield.
Even though their distribution wasn’t the best at times, the Mongolians were quite effective at getting the ball forward because they had numbers ahead. This gave them more chance at winning second-ball or flick-ons from the strikers. Plus, when Thailand picked up possession, they could press in numbers from the front; often, forcing Thailand out for a throw-in which killed the game’s pace and allowed the whole team to drop back into a deep compact unit.
Mongolia knew what they were coming up against, came up with a (proper) game plan based on the qualities and characteristics they had, and (with a bit of luck) executed it with perfection. Can the same be said about Thailand?
What team do we want to be?
I know we’ve discussed this many times before, but seriously, what kind of team do Thailand want to be?
It’s never easy for a newly-appointed head coach to hit the ground running from the get-go, especially in international football, where the squad spent a very short time together. Nonetheless, I feel it’s reasonable for fans to demand a clear identity – for us to see what the team intends to do when they step onto the pitch.
Fielding both wingers, Sakunchai Saengthopho and Jakkit Palapon, on their strong side, gives the impression that Thailand may look to attacking via crosses or cut-back passes from the byline. Yet, Thailand barely created any real chances from those means.
Thailand’s lacking identity, in this case going forward, may be down to the fact that Korawich Tasa, the team’s sole striker for the majority of the match, is not someone who thrives on crosses.
Let’s save the “What Worrawoot should have done” chat for later, because there is a genuine concern that Thailand doesn’t know what kind of team they want to be yet…
We failed to do so against Mongolia, but fingers crossed the coaching staff could select a starting XI at plays to the player’s strength in cohesion with one another. Let’s get the basics right. That’s not too much to ask, is it?