Club Profile: Buriram United

Name:
Buriram United FC

Founded:
2010, as Biruram PEA

Nickname:
Thunder Castle

Location:
Mueang Buri Ram, Buriram Province. Population circa 28,000

Stadium:
Chang Arena, capacity 32,600

Manager:
Božidar Bandović

Chairman:
Newin Chidchob

Description:
Existing only ever as a top team in Thailand, it was founded in 2010 after the prolific Buriram politician Newin Chidchob had taken control of Provincial Electrical Authority, a then Auytthaya-based club that had won the Thai Premier League in 2008(now known as Thai League 1), in late 2009 and moved the club to his hometown on the southern edge of the Korat-plateau ahead of the new season with a promise of running a free bus service to home games for the substantial fanbase in Ayutthaya. It’s safe to say, not too many were willing to follow their club to a new home a roughly five hour one-way trip away and the shuttle-buses are now long gone. The ultra-modern Chang Arena is rarely overflowing but that is to be expected when your stadium holds the entire population of the city and then some and the average numbers are among the biggest in Thailand. Buriram United do not suffer any shortage of fans with their kits being a familiar sight on the streets of most cities around the country. The club, whose crest depicts the ancient Hindu Khmer temple of Phanom Rung and is from a province holding a significant Khmer minority population, is a pillar in Newin’s apparent attempt to rebrand the City “the sporting capital of Thailand”, having secured a three year right to host a MotoGP race starting in 2018, and eying the possibility to host the Formula 1.

After moving to Buriram, PEA finished 2nd and 1st in both the Thai Premier League and League Cup in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and won the FA Cup in 2011, before completing its transformation and entering the 2012 season as Buriram United. The success has continued with the club winning another 5 league titles and never finishing below 4th place (twice, one of which was in the abandoned 2016 season). It has also racked up 4 more League Cups and 3 more FA Cups to date. The club has established a partnership with German giants Borussia Dortmund and made hefty investments in its academy, that has already produced a couple of senior Thai internationals already in Supachok Sarachat, and his younger brother Suphanat Mueanta who’ve become the youngest player to score in both T1 and the AFC Champions League ever and made his senior national team debut in this summer’s King’s Cup at only 16 years old. The big foreign names are skipper Andrés Túñez, former Venezuelan international and with many years of experience from Spanish football, Hajime Hosogai, a former key player for Japan and a long and successful career in predominantly the German Bundesliga, Nacer Barazite, a product of the Arsenal FC academy, and Rasmus Jönsson, with a couple of senior caps for Sweden and some experience from the German Bundesliga but with most of his career spent in Scandinavia. Buriram saw the most dominant player in Thai football history, Brazilian ace Diogo Luís Santo, leave for Malaysian giants JDT in the winter and Osvaldo Filho was supposed to pick up the slack but moved back to Brazil before the season started. Since then, there has been little patience in the hunt for a suitable replacement. Modibo Maïga was barely in the door before being shown the very same one, Pedro Júnior put up a few sterling performances but was still only given half a season due to inconsistency. It is simply a club that does not settle for anything but the best.

Meet me at the crossroads: Port – Buriram, preview

With the game of the season  so far coming up in the Thai League, and me having just gone on a four week break from school, there’s finally time to get a bit more productive on this platform so let’s take a look at the prospect of the two main title contenders facing off in Bangkok, as league leaders Port FC will host reigning champions Buriram United on Sunday. The lions of Klongtoey are 2 points at the top going into the game and a win would mean they stay on top at least until we reach the halfway point of the season at the end of next week. For the Thunder Castle, it’s a chance to reclaim the position they’re accustomed to and set themselves up nicely to retain the title once more. The trio of chasing teams, namely Bangkok United, Chiangrai United and Samut Prakan City, all parked six points behind Port and four behind Buriram at the moment, would relish the draw. Considering the two rounds coming up after this sees Port square up with both Samut Prakan and Chiangrai, while Buriram face the far less intimidating Chiangmai FC and Chonburi FC, the visitors would probably be quite content to bring just the one point back with them to Isaan. This could well prove to be the night where the 2019 Thai League season is defined.

Port went into the international break with 8 consecutive undefeated matches and will hope the two idle weeks since beating Chiangmai haven’t knocked them out of their stride. The team has been looking solid so far, continuing to build on the squad of players that carried them to a third place last year and the much needed depth brought in has worked as planned with the side being quite comfortable in handling suspensions and injuries without compromising with their free flowing, attacking style of play. However, the one player brought in who has had real impact on the starting eleven, Go Seul-ki, is ineligible for this match as he is on loan from Buriram, with a non-compete clause in the deal made between the clubs. The likely replacement, Sumanya Purisai, has not been as successful at his new club but is a seasoned Thai international and undoubtedly has the quality to fill the shoes of the Korean playmaker if he brings his A-game. Go or no-Go, Port will still come into the match with tons of confidence and looking to expand their lead in the table.

Buriram did not have as long a break as Port as they had two games in hand coming into it, the first one was played on June 1st and saw them salvage one point from a late equaliser away to Sukhothai. The other took place on Wednesday and resulted in an easy home win, 5-0, against PTT Rayong so we know that the champions are back on form following a two game stumble that saw them earn only a single point in two supposedly easy games just before the King’s Cup. Thunder Castle has not reached the same heights as in recent years but that is rather easily explained as they, surprisingly to say the least, decided to let go of the most dominant force that Thai football ever saw as Diogo was sold to Malaysian giants JDT. The Brazilian won more than a few games singlehandedly last season and his intended replacement, Modibo Maïga, came and went without contributing anything of value to the team. The club has also made a conscious and admirable effort to put faith in the homegrown players of its youth program with very promising results. 21-year old attacking midfielder Supachok Sarachat has arguably been their best player thus far in 2019 and his younger brother, striker Suphanat Mueanta, just earned his first senior international cap at the tender age of 16. 23-year old winger Sasalak Haiprakhon is also having a very fine season and if Buriram goes on to win the league in the first year of relying on this generation of Thai players, its hard to see anything other than continued long-term domestic dominance for the club.

Unfortunately, some particularly poor scheduling has this game overlapping with the Thailand – Sweden match in the Women’s World Cup in France. One may have thought Madame Pang, footing the bill for both the Thai Women’s NT and Port FC alike, would have tried to have this one changed from a 7PM to a 6PM kick-off, but seeing as she’s in France and won’t make it to the PAT on Sunday anyway, no such luck.
It should be an entertaining evening of football, both sides have gotten to where they are by trying to score goals and last seasons two encounters resulted in a total of eight of them, 2-2 in Bangkok and 3-1 in Buriram. It looks very likely that another high scoring draw is on the cards for tomorrow.

Buriram Utd, preview of ACL vs. Beijing Guoan

The Buriram United – PPT Rayong game in the Thai League that was supposed to take place on Saturday was postponed, the official reason being due to the level of PM2.5-pollutants in the air. But, the reported levels don´t really back that explanation up and rumours have had it the match was really moved to let the hegemons focus on Tuesday´s home clash with Beijing Guoan in the AFC Champions League. Buriram have made it their mission to improve on last year´s round of 16 exit and, despite the tall order this may be, Thunder Castle´s home win against K-League champions Jeonbuk in the previous round makes the first step of progressing from a very tough group (the fourth team being Urawa Red Diamonds who beat Buriram 3 goals to nil in Japan) plausible. For the Isaan-boys to repeat and surpass their own 2018 continental performance they will have to rely on their home form so this game is crucial to one of the main objectives of the new season.

Despite going into the weekend as league leaders, only to have dropped to second place with a game in hand following Port FC´s dismantling of joint top side PT Prachuap, Buriram have failed to impress so far. Due largely, of course, to the standard they´ve set in previous years. The big question mark ahead of the season was whether marquee-signing Modibo Maïga would be able to fill the shoes of his predecessor, Diogo. The Brazilian have been a dominating force all on his own for a few years and have continued his to apply his trade in the same fashion at Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) since his winter transfer. As far as his replacement goes, let´s just say the former West Ham United-striker is lucky a couple of the homegrown youngsters of Buriram have picked up some of the slack. Diogo won more than a few games, more or less, singlehandedly in 2018 and Maïga has yet to contribute anything of value to his new employer, making the Thai League look like a far more unpredictable affair in 2019. Still, Buriram will be in that to the very end and showed against Jeonbuk that they´ve built a foundation for becoming a regular performer in the ACL as well.

The visitors travel from the Chinese capital with a perfect record from four league games, but only a single point in their opening two ACL games so far. In a tournament where home advantage counts for a lot, Guoan lost away to Jeonbuk in the first round and where then held to a goalless draw by visiting Urawa Reds in the second. The overall quality is not new to Buriram but playing against a trio of top-class opponents like Jonathan Viera, Cedric Bakambu and Renato Augusto is a rare thing in Asian football. With the aerial ability of South Korean starlet centre-back Kim Minjae, who turned down a move to Watford in the English Premiership to join Guoan, and the individual quality Zhang Xizhe added to the foreign firepower, the Buriram defence will be up for a massive test.

With Maïga firing blanks, Buriram´s hopes of scoring rests largely on their up-and-coming attacking Thai players (namely Supachai Jaided and Supachok Sarachart, who´s scored 3 in 6 in the T1 and his clubs only goal so far in the ACL) and Asia wandering Brazilian striker Pedro Júnior. This is just the type of matches that I expected Hajime Hosogai was brought in for, but with the experienced Japanese midfielder getting rejected for his clubs AFC-player quota in favour of the very promising Vietnamese youngster Luong Xuan Truong, that option is off the table. Leaving Ratthanakorn Maikami and Sasalak Haiprakhon to deal with Guoan´s attacking midfield and help the back five by stopping the ball from reaching Bakambu. While Andrés Túñez and Pansa Hemviboon will be crucial in handling the precise deliveries from set-pieces.

This should be an interesting one, Guoan can produce some fantastic performances on their day, but Buriram is becoming a well-established presence at this level of the Asian game and will fancy their chances of another upset. All the pressure will be on the visitors who cannot afford to lose at this point of the group stage if they want to have a decent chance at progressing and, being from Beijing, they would probably have felt more comfortable playing in the alleged smog of Saturday rather than the 35 degrees Celsius expected at kick-off.

 

The continued rise of PT Prachuap

Following the departures of the attacking force of Jonatan Reis and Lonsana Doumbouya, that led the club to a fantastic 6th place finish in their first year in the top tier with a combined tally of 42 league goals, I had them pegged to struggle this season. Of course, it´s far too early to say but with the start that they´ve had, with wins against Muangthong and PTT Rayong, and the only loss coming away to Buriram, there´s good reason to suspect the 2018 performance was made possible by a solid foundation, rather than individual quality at the front. The new strikers, Matheus Alves and Caion, had already bagged 1 and 2 goals respectively, which further indicates a club that is working with a purpose and carefully plans its transfer activities. I hadn´t been able to catch any of their first three matches so I was looking forward to tonight´s encounter with Chainat that would give me the chance to form my own first hand opinion of the side.

Visiting Chainat, on the other hand, stayed up with more than a little help from the referee on the final day of last year´s campaign, and will likely be in the relegation-battle again and had started this season with three consecutive draws.

Chainat started much higher up the pitch than expected and could well have been ahead early on but Prachuap quickly started winning inches and after 23 minutes the hosts took the lead as Matheus Alves found Caion with a well weighted cross into the box. One must question the lack of pressure before the delivery and the virtually non-existing marking of the scorer, but the Brazilian duo couldn´t very well have done more with the space they were given. Far from complete control, Ricardo Santos could´ve scored but tried a Kanu-style backheel that didn´t come off at all, and totally solid but Prachuap was the better side. Uzbeki/Armenian Artyom Filiposian looked a great signing at defensive midfield but was lucky not to be in the book early on as his tough style of play was, at times, over the line in my opinion. The luck continued for Prachuap as a penalty, that would likely have been overturned if VAR was in use this round, as Alves was brought down but the replays showed the defender got a clear touch at the ball first. Caion didn´t mind and converted from the spot for his second of the night, his second (and Prachuap´s third out of seven in total) penalty-goal of the season. The second goal came in stoppage time but it took a massively important stop from Teerath Nakchamnarn keep it from going to three before the end of this very entertaining half of football, as Alves was clean through with the keeper.

The game became even more intense in the second half as Chainat pushed forward and Prachuap could break repeatedly. Both sides had come close to scoring on several occasions after 20 minutes of what was now an end-to-end affair but it was Chainat who finally did as Ricardo Santos was played clean through a failed offside trap and found the back of the net with a lovely dink past the keeper. It was, however, Prachuap´s night, less than 10 minutes after Santos´ goal, the home side was awarded a soft free-kick just outside the penalty area and up stepped Chitpanya Tisud. The initial shot went low and straight into the wall but the bounce fell perfectly for the Buriram-loanee who hammered home a volley to make it 3-1. After that, Chainat couldn´t find the strength to threaten Prachuap, who were content to lower the tempo and see it through. Leaving Chainat to travel home to the banks of the Chao Phraya-river carrying the burden of the season´s first defeat. Although not bad, they gave me very little reason to question my decision to name them as one of my bottom three teams ahead of the season.

It´s only one game, but with the results so far and their success with signing foreign players especially I must say I´m very impressed with Prachuap. Not only are the strikers producing an amazing return but Filiposian also looked a perfect fit. I now expect to be embarrassed by them when I go revisit my predictions, that had them battling relegation, at the end of the season. They look more like a club moving towards establishing themselves in the top half of the Thai League.