AFF Cup 2010: Thailand 2 Laos 2 (1/12/2010)

JAKARTA: Sarayoot Chaikamdee spared Thailand's blushes as his stoppage-time header earned the AFF Suzuki Cup favourites a 2-2 draw with qualifiers Laos in their Group A opener at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium on Wednesday.

A brilliant finish by substitute Kanlaya Sysomvang eight minutes from time had looked to put the Laotians on course for a shock win. But having already cancelled out Konekham Inthammavong's opening goal with a 68th minute equaliser, Sarayoot headed in a cross by Sutee Suksomkit to salvage a point for Bryan Robson's side.

Thailand entered the tournament as one of the favourites but the three-time winners will need to improve greatly in their next two games against Malaysia and Indonesia to progress to the semi-finals.

The Thais were feeling the effects after a number of their players were involved in a draining Thai FA Cup final last Sunday. Captain Nataporn Phanrit and playmaker Datsakorn Thonglao were left on the bench while defender Panupong Wongsa was not even included in the team list.

Meanwhile, Phatthana Syvilay and Kovanh Namthavixay failed to make Laos starting line-up after requiring hospital treatment for food poisoning last week.

The Thais appeared during the opening half although they created the better chances. They could have taken the lead as early as the fourth minute when Sarayoot's pass released Suchao Nutnum, who was unable to put the ball past Laos goalkeeper Sengphachan Bounthisanh

Sarayoot then had an opportunity of his own in the 12th minute after the striker ran on to a fine through ball by skipper Therdsak Chaiman. But the normally lethal striker shot straight at Sengphachan.

Laos looked dangerous on the counterattack and Thai defender Rangsan Vivatchaichok was booked in the 34th minute when he chopped down Lamnao Singto just outside the Thai box as the Laotian striker bore down on goal. Konekham wasted the free-kick opportunity, firing straight at the Thai wall.

Thailand's best chance of the half arrived five minutes before half-time. Sarayoot slipped a fine through ball to Therdsak, who broke clear but was quickly closed down by Sengphachan who stopped the Thai skipper's initial attempt. Therdsak managed to get to the rebound first but his follow-up shot came back off the upright.

With the game still deadlocked, Laos grew in confidence after the break and took a shock lead in the 54th minute. Kaysone Soukhavong swung in a free-kick on the right flank that was met by Konekham, who badly mistimed his header. However, the ball bounced off the ground and looped agonisingly over the head of goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool for the opening goal.

Thailand appeared to get back on level terms just a minute later when Sarayoot put the ball in after the ball had been flicked on by Teerathep Winothai. But the striker's effort was disallowed for offside.

The Thais were on the ropes but they levelled in the 68th minute thanks to a brilliant finish by Sarayoot. Sutee Suksomkit laid the ball into the path of the striker on the right of the Laos box and he curled it with the inside of his right foot over the head of Sengphachan.

Kanlaya came on as a replacement for Lamnao and appeared to have bagged the winner in the 82nd minute with an unstoppable right-footed shot from 20 metres that flew into the top right corner of the Thai net.

But the Thais rescued a point when Sarayoot's header crept in in stoppage time despite Sengphachan getting a hand to the ball.