New challenge begins now for Reid & Co (14/01/2009 )

Thailand coach Peter Reid and his men undertake their first assignment of the year today when they face Jordan in their opening match of the Asian Cup qualifying round.

They need a result to win back the fans' faith after they failed to secure the AFF Suzuki Cup last month when they lost 3-2 on aggregate in the two-legged final.

After the New Year break, the team began training last Monday. They are without Teerathep ''Leesaw'' Winothai, who is now playing for Belgium's second division side K Lierse SK.

The striker, who had an unsuccessful spell at English club Crystal Palace, signed a three-year deal with the Belgian team.

He believes that this will be a venue for him to show his talent in his bid to return to England.

Teerathep's strike partner Teerasil Dangda started in almost every game in the Suzuki Cup. However, Reid still has two other strikers, Anon Sangsanoi and Ronnachai Rangsiyo, to partner Teerasil who was the top scorer in the Suzuki Cup.

After two days of training in Bangkok, the Thai team left to train in Qatar to get used to the weather in the Middle East, which is quite cold for Thais.

According to Worawi Makudi, president of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), Jordan is surrounded by the sea and mountains so it has the coldest weather in the Middle East.

Reid said the team's spell in Qatar was useful because the squad got a chance to acclimatise to the elements and play against a team with tall players.

They played Qatari club Al Wakra in a warm-up match which ended in a 1-1 draw on Saturday.

''This is good for us because we played against a strong team who have players who are tall and have good technique,'' Reid said. ''It is useful for us because we can see our weak points before the match with Jordan.''

The former England international said he had received information about Jordan and knows how to play against them.

Thailand are in Group E with the other two teams being Iran and Singapore. As Jordan are considered one of the weak sides in the group, the Thais need to return home with at least one point before tougher assignments.

But Reid is looking beyond a draw and believes his men are good enough to get the three points in Amman. ''We will not play for only a draw. We are in Amman to beat Jordan,'' he said.

While the coach is confident about his team's chance of winning, his players may be unable to deliver as they often have problems playing against Middle Eastern teams or in the cold weather.

Group E is not the most difficult bracket but it won't be easy for Thailand.

With two teams progressing to the 2011 Asian Cup finals, powerhouses Iran are hot favourites to take one of the spots.

This would leave Thailand, Jordan and Singapore vying for the other berth. Singapore, who boast several naturalised Europeans and Africans, could be a threat.

Worawi looks beyond the Jordan match and sees Thailand's next game against Iran in Bangkok on Jan 28 as more important.

''The mach with Iran on January 28 will be a big test for the team because we want to see how much the players have improved when they meet a top Asian team since Reid took over as Thailand coach in September,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Worawi and his predecessor Vijitr Getkaew have buried their hatchet.

There were reports that Vijitr was upset by Worawi's treatment of his associates so he planned to send a candidate to challenge Worawi in the election for FAT president in the next few months.

But they had a talk recently and Vijitr, who was FAT chief for more than a decade, vowed to help Worawi.

''Worawi is a hard working person. I am willing to help him and join him for the development of Thai football to reach our ultimate goal of reaching the World Cup finals,'' said Vijitr who is still regarded as the most powerful figure in Thai football.

This should be good news for Thai football as Worawi, who is a Fifa executive member, will be able to work without fear that he will be dethroned.

Tor Chittinand is Bangkok Post's football writer