Two wins and two clean sheets paint a very positive picture of Thailand’s October friendlies as they prepare to defend the AFF Suzuki Cup next month. A determined rearguard action, some good goalkeeping and more than a bit of luck ensured that the War Elephants escaped from Hong Kong with a 1-0 win on Thursday. On Sunday evening, a more assured performance saw a deserved home win over Trinidad & Tobago, again by a 1-0 margin. There is now plenty for head coach Milovan Rajevac to consider before the AFF Suzuki Cup kicks off with a home match against Timor Leste on November 9th.
Siwarak stakes his claim
Despite being the regular goalkeeper at the best club in the Thai League, Buriram United’s Siwarak Tedsungnoen has found his opportunities at international level limited by the excellence of Kawin Thamsatchanan and Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool.
With Kawin unavailable and Sintaweechai retired from international football, Siwarak finds himself the obvious choice to start in goal after several years of regular participation in the AFC Champions League. The 34-year-old pulled off a number of impressive saves against Hong Kong to reinforce his case.
Chiang Rai United’s Chatchai Budprom generally did well against Trinidad & Tobago but a moment of rashness in the second half may have cost him any chance of being preferred to Siwarak. After failing to take the ball cleanly, he charged out of the box and dived on the ball, earning a yellow card for deliberate handball. On the basis of form, experience and these two matches, Siwarak certainly looks a safer pair of hands.
Chalermpong and three others…
One of the first things Rajevac did as Thailand boss was to make Chalermpong Kerdkaew an integral part of his squad. The Nakhon Ratchasima centre-back made his international debut at the age of 30 and the fact that he was one of only two players to start in Hong Kong and then Suphanburi was an indication of how highly valued he is.
But it is unclear who else well will make up the back four that Rajevac prefers. At right-back, Philip Roller put in an energetic performance, capped by the winning goal on Thursday. But Mika Chunuonsee was solid in the same position on Sunday after an impressive season at Bangkok United. Manuel Bihr put in an impressive shift alongside Chalermpong in Hong Kong and may have just edged Suphan Thongsong on that basis. However, Buriram’s Pansa Hemviboon will surely be considered for the final squad after missing out on these two matches.
At left-back, Peerapat Notchaiya did not play in either friendly but will surely be in contention. Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri did not perform as he can for his club when he started in Hong Kong and it was disappointing not to see Port FC’s Kevin Deeromram given a chance to show what he can do. On the basis of these two matches it seems that the defence will be made up of Chalermpong and three others.
Middle men fight it out
Rajevac’s preferred midfield will likely feature Thitipan Puangchan and Tanaboon Kesarat, with three more advanced players behind a lone striker. Thitipan’s dynamic second-half performance and winning goal against Trinidad & Tobago highlighted his importance but there was nothing else decisive. Tanaboon is still playing his way back into his best form after a long spell out through injury, while there was plenty to think about in the performances of the various other players who contributed. Sanrawat Dechmitr, Pokklaw Anan and Sumanya Purisai may be teammates at Bangkok United but they are clearly in competition with the national side. Sumanya’s fine shift on Sunday has certainly put him firmly in the frame.
Meanwhile, Anon Amornlerdsak’s lively contribution as a second-half substitute against Trinidad & Tobago suggests he may be higher up the pecking order than the more experienced Nurul Sriyankem.
Front men firing blanks
While two clean sheets represented good news for the defence, two goals scored by a full-back and a midfielder reinforced the problems in attack. Teerasil Dangda played 45 minutes against Trinidad & Tobago to be a part of Sintaweechai’s testimonial celebrations but will be unavailable in November. Buriram’s 19-year-old Supachai Jaided was tried out as a lone striker in Hong Kong but made little impact in a position he never plays for his club. Chananan Pombuppha earned starts in both friendlies but while a willing worker, he rarely threatened to score in the role of second striker. Adisak Kraisorn was sluggish when he came on a substitute against Hong Kong but put in a much better display on Sunday, though still couldn’t find the target. Adisak has had an injury-plagued couple of years and it remains to be seen if he can reach the right level of match sharpness before the match against Timor Leste. However, given his experience and scoring record, Adisak currently looks the front runner for the role of lone striker in Rajevac’s preferred formation.