Thailand down S'pore, enter final (December 27, 2006 )

Thailand's ambitions of regaining the title got a boost after they notched up their second successive win by defeating Singapore 2-0 in their second match of the quadrangular King's Cup tournament yesterday.

Chanwit Pholchiwin's side had to overcome a slow start against a defensive-minded Singapore side before evergreen striker Kiartisak "Zico" Senameung's touches of brilliance inspired them to a deserved win.

Kiartisak, who was recalled to the national team along with several ageing stars after more than two years in exile, marked his emotional return applying two deft finishing touches to subdue the resilient visitors.

Given the short period of preparation, Chanwit said he was happy with his team's performance despite facing a stern challenge from Singapore in the opening period. He said his players showed much improvement from the first match both in attack and defence, which eventually led to the victory.

Chanwit also hinted that he would ring in changes for the next match against Kazakhstan - who suffered a 2-1 defeat to Vietnam in yesterday's other match - as his side has already claimed the spot in Saturday's final.

The match drew huge interest from the public. Thousands of fans poured into the venue, creating an atmosphere that had long disappeared at the Suphachalasai stadium.

Chanwit's side received a welcomed boost when key midfielder Datsakorn Thonglao, who scored the winner against Vietnam in the opening match, passed a late fitness test to figure in the starting line-up.

Singapore, under experienced Croatian coach Radojko Avramovic, fielded their strongest team, featuring several foreign-born players, including burly midfielder Mustafic Fahrudin.

The game got off to a scrappy start as both teams struggled to create chances due to their poor passing in the final third of the pitch.

Despite colourful Mexican waves cascading on the stands, the excitement that the crowd expected did not happen as the match was played at a dull pace.

The only notable chance came Thailand's way in the first half just nine minutes before half-time.

Sutee Suksomkit delivered a free-kick from the right side which found its way to the lurking Sarayoot Chaikamdee at the far post. However, the forward, dubbed "Jo five-yard", failed to live up to his billing as his shot from barely five yards out went straight into the hands of the keeper.

The second half began in stark contrast to the first 45 minutes as Chanwit's men came out with a renewed vigour. Shortly after the restart, Sarayoot almost made up for his early mistake when he broke clear on the right side of the penalty box only for his angled shot to go agonisingly inches wide of the goal frame.

However, the hosts did not have to wait long for the breakthrough when a slick movement finally broke down the visitors' stubborn resistance. Kiartisak took a pass from Sutee on the left side and played a quick one-two with Khwanchai Fuangprakob on the edge of the area before the evergreen striker received the return inside the box to fire Thailand in front in the 55th minute, sparking a wild celebration in the stadium.

Finding themselves behind, the Singaporean players seemed to lose their temper. Only three minutes later, the visitors were reduced to 10 men following a straight red card to Fahrudin, who appeared to elbow the lively Datsakorn.

Thailand quickly made the most of their numerical advantage as they doubled their lead three minutes later with another good move triggered by Datsakorn.

The diminutive midfielder gained possession around the middle of the park before picking out Kiartisak clean towards goal. Despite the challenge from Singapore keeper Lionel Lewis, Kiartisak still managed to put the ball into the net.

Kitinan Sanguansak
The Nation