Fall from Grace (11/12/2010)

A tiger? No, it's a cat - it's Thailand .

Thailand are no longer the major force in Southeast Asian football thanks to their disappointing results at the region's major events, last year's SEA Games and this month's Suzuki Cup.

The three-time winners of the Suzuki Cup were knocked out in the first round without a single win in Group A in Jakarta.

Bryan Robson's men needed an injury-time goal to scrape a 2-2 draw with Laos and then failed to break Malaysia's defence in a scoreless draw.

Hosts Indonesia condemned the Thais to an early exit on Tuesday when they came from behind to win 2-1 with two penalties in the last 10 minutes.

The poor performance upsets Thai fans who are calling for the head of Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Worawi Makudi.

The Suzuki Cup setback was only the last straw as Thai football has been in disarray with a series of embarrassing results over the past 12 months.

Trouble began at the 2009 SEA Games in December when the Thai U23 side, coached by then Robson's assistant Steve Darby, travelled to Laos brimming with confidence that they would return home with their ninth consecutive title.

Instead, they finished empty-handed after being eliminated in the first round. It was their first early exit in the biennial event for 36 years.

The full national side, under Robson, then failed to reach the Asian Cup finals for the first time for 23 years.

At last month's Asian Games, the U23 squad, coached by Robson, advanced to the quarter-finals before losing 1-0 to eventual champions Japan.

Reaching the last eight was acceptable. But their 0-0 draw with Maldives in the first round was unacceptable to most Thai fans.

One year after the disgraceful exit at the SEA Games, Thailand suffered another shock elimination at the Suzuki Cup.

"Other countries are making progress but we are stepping backwards," said commentator and writer Apisit "Nostradamus" Apisuksiri on his radio programme.

"We are no longer a tiger. Nobody is afraid of us. We are just a tame cat."

To be fair to Robson, his team's preparations for the Suzuki Cup were hampered by a long domestic season. The season ended with the FA Cup final between Muang Thong United and Chon Buri FC who won after extra time just a few days before the Suzuki Cup started.

Almost half of the Thai players in the Suzuki Cup squad were from the two clubs and the team could only train together on the eve of the event.

Critics said players had to play too many games in the final stretch of the season because the FAT hastily added the League Cup to the season.

The inaugural League Cup was launched in mid-season and ended last month and this more or less affected the full national team and the U23 side's preparations for the Suzuki Cup and the Asian Games.

Worawi argued that there were too many matches in the home stretch because several games had been postponed earlier in the season because of the political situation and bad weather.

He also said that clubs agreed to the introduction of the League Cup because they would get extra income.

FAT secretary-general Ong-art Korsinkha said when domestic football becomes popular, sponsorships pour in automatically and a new competition was launched naturally.

He admitted that the FAT must carefully consider next season's programme to avoid fixture congestion.

TV commentator Pansit Wichayacoopt said the FAT should not use political and weather factors as an excuse.

"When you become bankrupt after your business suffers a loss, it is more likely because of your mismanagement than politics or rain," he said.

War-torn Iraq had much more problems than Thailand but could still manage to win the 2007 Asian Cup. A number of their players lost their families but they could overcome the setback, he said.

Several groups of Thailand supporters are campaigning to oust FAT president Worawi. Many fans now call Worawi "Bang Yuck" instead of his nickname "Bang Yee".

They have called on fans who are fed up with the FAT to join a demonstration outside the TV Channel 3 office on Rama IV Road at 9am today. The organisers call the protest "a historic gathering for changes to Thai football."

"A battle between fans and the FAT is about to begin," said one fan.

While coach Robson cannot avoid responsibility for the Suzuki Cup blow, a large number of critics and fans point their finger at the FAT.

"The Thai FA must listen to fans and must shoulder responsibility in one way or another. They cannot just try to make an excuse," said Pansit.

"There may be something wrong with the whole system and the FA bosses must review the way they are running the association."

But Worawi said management duty and coaching job are different matters. He argued that as FAT president his role is to provide the national team with support and not interfering in the coach's job.

For any team, an early exit in a tournament is not uncommon, according to Worawi citing powerhouses Italy and France's elimination in the first round of the 2010 World Cup as an example.

He insisted that he will not bow to pressure and will stay on as FAT boss. "I won't quit," he said in a TV interview.

Worawi said if football administrators were sacked after their team failed to deliver, then hundreds of football officials around the world would lose their jobs.

Apisit said Worawi should "show responsibility." He said: "You may not feel ashamed of Thailand's failure but I am."

Pinit Ngampring, a devout fan of Thai football, commented: "Worawi has done nothing wrong - he has not done anything at all."

Source : http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/sports/210772/fall-from-grace