Thailand must learn to accept decisions (February 02, 2007)
It is unfortunate that Thailand suffered a 2-1 defeat in Singapore in the final first leg of the Asean Championship on Wednesday with the home side scoring the winner from a highly controversial penalty. After cancelling Singapore's half-time lead shortly after the interval, Thailand were the better side in the second half and should have returned home with at least a draw.
However, Malaysian referee C. Ravichandran stole the show with eight minutes to go when he awarded Singapore a penalty. He signalled that Niweat Siriwong had pulled down Noh Alam Shah in the area and booked the Thai defender.
Infuriated by the decision, Thailand staged a walk-out and refused to continue. The Thai players were persuaded to return to the pitch, 15 minutes after they had started the protest.
It was fortunate that Thailand returned to play or the situation could have become even worse for all concerned parties and Southeast Asian football which has been tainted by corruption and gambling.
After the match resumed, Mustafic Faharuddin, Singapore's import from Serbia, fired home from the spot to give the island state a slender 2-1 lead into Sunday's second leg at Supachalasai stadium.
Replays suggested that there was little contact between Niweat and Shah. That was why Thailand coach Chanvit Phalajivin fiercely protested the ref's decision, but he should not have lost his cool and apparently ordered his players to stop playing.
To be fair to the ref, he did not see replays unlike TV viewers and had to make a decision under pressure from the home crowd in the National Stadium which was packed to its 55,000 capacity.
I have sympathy for Thailand, but poor officiating is part of the game. Sometimes you gain from a referee's blunder, sometimes it is the other way round. Officiating in certain Premiership matches is even worse than this. You can only accept it.
But one may wonder why the ref made the decision when he apparently was not in a position to see the incident clearly. He did not even consult his assistant who might have seen the action clearer.
Rumour had it that there might have been something fishy in Wednesday's game. ''Singapore dollar is very strong,'' Siam Sport daily said in its report yesterday.
In Bangkok earlier this month, there was also suspicion on why Burma could only manage a scoreless draw in their last first-round match with the Philippines, one of the weakest sides in the region.
The surprise result sent Malaysia to the semi-finals. The Burmese would have taken the slot had they beaten the Philippines.
Although I think this is not fair to involved parties, you can't stop the rumour mills from giving football in the region a bad image as match-fixing, triggered by betting syndicates, is ripe in Southeast Asia.
Thailand will now have to beat Singapore by at least two goals to win the title in 90 minutes in the second leg at Supachalasai stadium on Sunday.
The away goal rule is not in use in this tournament. The two sides will have to play extra time if the tie ends in a draw over two legs and penalty shoot-out will settle a deadlock.
Thailand are capable of taming the Lions in the return match without help from match officials although Singapore have improved considerably over the years.
The Thais defeated the Singaporeans on their way to winning the King's Cup last month and should be able to repeat the feat on Sunday.
Tension will be high at Supachalasai as a majority of Thais feel their national side were cheated in Singapore. The sour relations between the two countries will also add spice to the game. As a precaution, any political protest must not be allowed in the stadium.
As for Thai fans, they should bear in mind that this is just a football match which has nothing to do with politics. In fact, a number of their players are not Singaporean-born.