Dubious penalty denies Thailand win (3 December 2009)
VIENTIANE : Eight-time defending champions Thailand were held to a 1-1 draw by Vietnam in their opening match at the 25th SEA Games yesterday.
A dubious penalty by Vietnam's Hoang Dinh Tung in the final moments cancelled out Kirati Keawsombut's 71st-minute strike in an ill-tempered Group A match at the Lao National Stadium.
The newly-built stadium was packed to its 20,000 capacity with most spectators being Vietnamese who crossed the border to attend the match in large numbers.
The Thais, who have won gold at the biennial event since 1993, squandered numerous chances and paid the price for sitting back to defend the slim lead.
Thailand got off to a lively start and dominated for long periods in the first half with midfielder Arthit Sunthornphit in dazzling form.
However, the Thais lacked sharpness and failed to break Vietnam's defence.
Arthit's long-range shot went just wide and his free-kick almost broke the deadlock early on.
Striker Teerasil Dangda's header was off target twice. He then suffered a shin injury and will miss the next match.
Sompong Soleb, who replaced Teerasil at half-time, had at least two clear opportunities early in the second half but failed to send the ball into the back of the net.
He was unmarked just a few yards out but his shot sailed over the bar. Moments later he went clear but decided to pass the ball to a team-mate instead of shooting.
Games debutant Kirati finally gave Thailand the lead. He hit the ball home from close range after Vietnam goalkeeper Bui Tran Troung failed to hold a corner.
Thailand then shifted down several gears and that allowed the Vietnamese to stage a fightback.
The champions were punished when Sujarit Jantakol was adjudged to have pushed an opponent in the area although replays showed there was only slight contact.
Tung slotted home from the spot sending Thailand goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan the wrong way in the 89th minute.
Thailand coach Steve Darby declined to comment on the penalty. "I didn't see the incident so I can't give a comment," said the English coach.
Darby praised his players for their good performance and attitude despite their failure to hang on for three points.
"We missed a couple of chances but I'm very pleased with the players. It was an excellent football match in Southeast Asia," he said.
"The players performed well. They did not make unnecessary tackles to get a stupid yellow card although the Vietnamese tackled very hard."
In the other Group A game yesterday, Malaysia hammered East Timor 11-0. Cambodia are the other team in the group. The top two teams from each of the two groups advance to the semi-finals.
Thailand next meet Cambodia tomorrow.