Thailand can learn from Euro action (June 16, 2008)



WANCHAI RUJAWONGSANTI

Thailand's World Cup campaign officially ended on Saturday when they were well beaten 3-0 by Japan at Rajamangala National Stadium.

After two easy wins against Macau and Yemen in the preliminary rounds, Thailand were brimming with confidence that they would do well in the first group stage of Asia's World Cup qualifiers.

When they were drawn to meet Japan, Bahrain and Oman in Group Two, their confidence soared. They believed they could get 10 points. With only one match remaining, they are nine points short of their target.

On Saturday, Japan, who beat Thailand 3-1 in the home leg, struck twice in the first half in similar fashion with two headed goals from corner kicks as the Thai defence could not cope with the high ball.

Thailand coach Chanvit Phalajivin said his team had a decent game but lost because they were unable to handle set pieces.

It is true that Thai players are relatively small and often in trouble when they face aerial attack. But it is not true that you have to be big to be good in the air. They can learn from some of the top defenders at Euro 2008. Some are not so big and have similar size to Thais but can comfortably deal with the high ball such as Spain defender Carles Puyol who stands less than 1.80 metres.

Thailand's weak defence against set plays is certainly not their only problem. They have conceded several goals on the ground too in the current World Cup qualifiers. Probably, they are not just good enough.

But not only their defence is to blame, their strike force has not fared much better and are often out of sorts against Asia's powerhouses.

Their fighting spirit on and off the pitch is also questionable. When Thailand lost their first three games in Group Two, Thai officials were quick to throw in the towel.

At that time, they could still advance to the next round if they won their last three games although admittedly it was a tough assignment. When the bosses do not show fighting spirit, it only discourages the players.

On the pitch, Thai players often look down and out and fail to regroup and stage a rally when they are behind.

They should learn lessons from teams like Germany who never give up until the final whistle. Spain got the winner in their 2-1 victory over Sweden with seconds to go, while Austria drew 1-1 with Poland with an injury-time equaliser although it was from a controversial penalty.

Talking about Spain who got off to a brilliant start with a 4-1 win over Russia, they did not prove they are a legitimate contender when they faced Sweden in their second game on Saturday.

It was a cruel blow for the Swedes who did a good job and deserved at least one point. Spain and Sweden were in the same qualifying group with each winning at home.

When Spain thrashed Russia 4-1 in their opening game, the bookies were quick to make them of the top favourites to win the tournament.

Against Sweden, Spain's attack was entertaining but not so effective. Their defence again was shaky and looked even worse when their defender Puyol limped off midway through the first half.

Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos proved again that he is an overrated defender when he failed to stop Zlatan Ibrahimovich who slotted home an equaliser after Fernando Torres had put Spain in front.

If the "Raging Bulls" - as Spain are called by the Thai press - cannot solve their defensive frailty, they will certainly be slain by a matador.