Superb Chanathip hits his stride
Heading into the knockout stage, Thailand’s dimunitive Number 18 was yet to showcase the best of his abilities. However, a lucky break gifted him with the opportunity to open his account for the tournament, and a player of his quality was always unlikely to miss. With his game now in full swing, ‘Messi Jay’ treated us to possibly the most sublime goal of the tournament, drifting between the lines to pick up a pass from central-defender Kritsada Kaman before playing consecutive one-twos with Teerasil Danda and Sarach Yooyen before sliding the ball home.
The Mano way!
Mano Polking has brought joy to many Thai supporters throughout the group stage with his attacking brand of football. And no goal exemplifies “Mano-ball” better than the War Elephants second goal, which involves all ten outfield players in a sequence of precise passes that finished with Chanathip tucking a neat shot into the side netting. A victory over Vietnam over the two legs would also be a symbolic victory for the style of football Mano has tried to implement throughout his career.
Higher level opponents
The War Elephants made it through the group stage unscathed and were able to impose their game plan on most of their opponents thus far. However, the encounter against Vietnam was an entirely different affair. The game was played with much more intensity and at a much faster clip; the players had to be at their sharpest just to keep up. Even two goals up, Thailand looked far from comfortable, and their second half game plan was reduced to speculative long balls as they sought a momentary relief from the pressure. As expected, Park Hang-Seo’s side were the toughest opponents the Changsuek have faced at the tournament, and a major test for Mano Polking’s side.
Unlucky Quang Hai denied game-changing moment
Talisman Nguyen Quang Hai was, without a doubt, Vietnam’s best player on the pitch on Thursday night. Quang Hai had 59 touches (third highest in the team), drew four fouls (Vietnam’s most), and is extremely unlucky to see two of his attempts bounced off the frame of the goal. As one of the deadliest left-footer in the region, Quang Hai can, and will, turn the game around on his own if he is afforded time and space.
It isn’t over
Even with a two goal advantage, Thailand are far from comfortable heading into the second leg. Despite what the scoreline may suggest, it was a game of very fine margins. Vietnam struck the woodwork twice, either side of half time, and any number of moments could have completely changed the flow of the match. One would expect that needing to open up could potentially make Park Hang-Seo’s side vulnerable and grant Thailand more opportunities on the counter attack, but that wasn’t how things panned out in the second half. The tie still hangs in the balance, and a tense tactical battle is likely to follow in the second leg.