There’s more to Teerasil than just goals!
Teerasil Dangda’s 26th minute strike set the new record for AFF Suzuki Cup’s highest goalscorer at 18 goals, a record the Thai striker extended to 19 with the match-winning penalty. To fully appreciate Teerasil’s performance, we can look at his 100% shot accuracy from all of his six attempts at goal. The three-time AFF Suzuki Cup golden boot winner also completed all three of his dribbles (more than any player on the pitch) and won half of his six aerial duels (joint highest in the game alongside the Azkals’ Amani Aguinaldo).
Mano’s Bold Substitutions Give Thailand the Upper Hand
While the starting lineup was understandably less gung-ho than the games against Myanmar and Timor-Leste, Mano showed his bravery in shuffling the pack in the second half. Many coaches in his position would have chosen safety first and hoped to nick a win, but winger Bordin Phala came on for central midfielder Sarach Yooyen for the final 15 minutes as the War Elephants ramped up the pressure. Similarly, while another coach may have left captain and star-man Chanathip Songkrasin on the pitch, the Thailand boss wasn’t afraid to replace him with the score deadlocked due to his fatigue. Mano’s belief in his squad paid off, and the side are now in a good position heading into their final group game against Singapore.
Theerathon counter-measure comes with a cost
The Philippines set up in a solid back-3, which dropped into a back-5, with plans to hit Thailand on the break. Theerathon Bunmathan is, on par with Teerasil Dangda, arguably one of Thailand’s best players thus far. However, as we’ve mentioned in previous pieces, having Theerathon in the team does leave a gap behind at the back which opponents can utilise. In response, the Azkals started main main Stephan Schrock on the right, presumably to try and keep Theerathon on the back foot and kick start the Philippines counter-attack on the Thai weaker flank. However, this came at a cost defensively and it was on his side that Thailand built up and broke the deadlock.
High expectations are back!
Well, they never really went away. Thailand have always considered themselves to be among Southeast Asia’s elite, and fans come into every AFF Cup expecting a win. A poor run and some major changes prior to the competition muted expectations slightly, and much of the pre-tournament discourse back home avoided explicitly calling the War Elephants ‘favourites’. However, after three wins on the bounce Thai fans are out in full force once again, and there is no denying that anything less than a trophy will leave them disappointed.
Is topping the group worth it?
Thai fans will surely want to finish the group stage as leaders, but with the prospect of fatigue issues, the final group match against Singapore may be a good opportunity to rest and rotate. While topping the group could ensure a ‘better draw’ in the semi finals, winning the entire competition will require beating the best teams one way or another. The pragmatic decision may be to rest and rotate in preparation for the two-legged ties ahead.