Hopes hit by opening defeat (March 01, 2007)


North Korea stalled Thailand's Olympic hopes last night by beating the Thais 1-0 in their opening match of the first qualifying group stage at Supachalasai Stadium. Thailand, who started with three forwards, dominated for long spells in the Group E match but failed to break North Korea's gritty defence.

The home side were made to pay the price when An Chol Hyok beat their offside trap and their goalkeeper Chalermkiat Sombatpan to score the winner after 21 minutes.

Thailand, who thrashed Turkmenistan 6-1 on aggregate in a preliminary tie, now face an uphill task to progress to the next round.

The other two sides in the group are Iraq, semi-finalists at the 2004 Olympics, and India. The top two teams from each group qualify for the next stage.

Thailand were the more lively side in the opening stages in front of 15,000 spectators with Teerathep ''Leesaw'' Winothai, Chakrit Buathong and Teerasil Dangda up front.

The Thais came close to opening the scoring after seven minutes but Chakrit failed to capitalise on Teerathep's fine pass.

The visitors were soon in control and drew first blood after 21 minutes. The Thai defenders were stationary as they thought An Chol Hyok was offside and the North Koreans punished them dearly.

The Thai Under-23 side should have got an equaliser just before the interval but Teerathep's shot was cleared away.

In the second half, the Koreans almost put every man behind the ball, tactics that frustrated Thailand who found that the visitors' defence and goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk too tough to beat.

''I'd like to say sorry to Thai fans,'' said Thailand coach Prapol Pongpanich. ''We played well and got several chances but failed to score. North Korea had only two chances but one of them became a goal.''

Prapol believed Thailand could still qualify for the next round.

''We still have five more matches but we need improvement,'' he said.

Thailand manager Kasem Jariyawatwong also rued Thailand's missed chances and admitted that it was difficult for Thailand to advance to the next round. ''Without a point from a home game, it will be difficult for us. We must improve our attack in the remaining matches.''

Thailand's next game will be against India in Chennai on March 14.