Thailand's hopes hit by injury woes (January 31, 2007)
Talismanic Thailand skipper Kiatisak 'Zico' Senamuang has been forced to pull out of tonight's Asean Championship final first leg clash against Singapore. Kiatisak is expected to be sidelined with an ankle injury for three weeks and there are also questions marks over playmaker Datsakorn Thonglao, midfielder Nirut Surasiang and fullback Suree Sukha.
The catalogue of injuries means the swaggering confidence of the Thais has taken a nose dive ahead of tonight's game at the National Stadium in Singapore.
Team manager Thavatchai Sajakul said the crisis was uppermost in his mind.
''Given the list of injuries we are carrying, and Singapore's recent form, we will be happy if we can take a point home from tonight's match,'' said Thavatchai.
''It will be a real pressure situation, particularly because of the spat between the Thailand and Singapore governments, which will give their fans an incentive to cheer their team on even more.''
Thailand coach Chanvit Phalajivin agreed the match would be tough but said he has told his players to remain disciplined at all times.
''The most important thing for our players is to control the game and themselves when they play under pressure,'' he said.
''I have told them that they must not foul near or inside the penalty area.
''We must foul less during the match because the referee can show yellow or red cards and even award a penalty kick.
'' I have also told them not to question offside decisions too often as this could cause a problem with the assistant referee.''
Chanvit said he had studied Singapore in depth and had come up with a gameplan for tonight's match.
''I told our defenders to be careful with high crosses from the side because the Singaporean strikers are very tall,'' he said.
''We will use our two strikers, Sarayuth Chaikamdee and Pipat Tonkanya, to upset the Singapore defence because their defenders are quite a bit slower than our strikeforce.
''We are not just going to try and defend because if we have chance to counterattack then we may be able to score.
''We hope to take, at least, a point back to Thailand for the second leg but we won in Vietnam in the semi-final and that is what we want again.''
All the indications are favouring Thailand to lift the trophy for the fourth time since they won the inaugural championship back in 1996.
Thailand went on to win it again in 2000 and 2002.
The side never lost to Singapore during that period.
Thailand's recent form, including their triumph in the King's Cup in Bangkok a month before the Asean Championship kicked off, has added weight to their favourite's tag.
Thavatchai said he believes Singapore have improved as the tournament progressed.
''However, we must get one point back although our main players are not fully fit,'' he said.
''If we can do that then we will have a big advantage for the second leg at our home ground and I hope that we will win the title.''
Singapore coach Radjoko Avramovic said he expected the tie to still be hanging in the balance after tonight's game.
''We are ready for the final and there is no looking back now,'' he said.
''It will be a final over two matches and that means playing home or away first doesn't make much difference.
''In any case I don't think the title will be decided over the first 90 minutes of football.''
The match will be televised live on channel 7 and Star Sports at 7pm tonight.
PROBABLE THAILAND TEAM
Kittisak Rawangpa, Jedsada Jidsawad, Niweat Siriwong, Nataporn Phanrit, Suree Sukha, Nirut Surasiang, Datsakorn Thonglao, Sutee Suksomkit, Suchao Nutnum, Pipat Tonkanya and Sarayuth Chaikamdee.