After a very poor second half, that undid all the good work put in before the break against Australia on Saturday, has left the hosts of the 2020 AFC U23 Championships/Olympic Games Qualifiers in second place in Group A ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Iraq. But, given how the two opening matches have unfolded, the Young War Elephants should be feeling quite positive about the prospect of advancing to the knockout stages. The 5-0 thrashing of Bahrain was a display of fantastic attacking football, but also of some glaringly obvious defensive problems. The 2-1 defeat to Australia was not as shaky at the back, and even though Australia deserved to win in the end, they really struggled to create anything much before the physical differences between the two sides started to take its toll on Thailand. Offensively, the Thais created nothing after the break but created enough chances before half time to have won the game on another day. However, the loss is not the only thing to leave some dark shades on the Thai footballing palette, an even bigger worry will be two forced substitutions on Supachai Jaided and, more importantly, 17-year old wunderkind Suphanat Mueanta that saw any attacking threat completely evaporate. If these two aren’t ready to play, it will make the game against Iraq all the much harder for a team dreaming Olympic participation in the summer.
The opposition is unbeaten, but also without a win, after two rounds. Having come back from 0-1 to secure a draw against Australia, a result perhaps more impressive than the performance behind it, and going behind twice to earn a point in the last minute against Bahrain. Showing some fighting spirit in both games but fighting back from behind won’t be enough as they now need 3 points to have any chance of advancing in the tournament. While the equaliser against Australia was the result of some top individual quality, both goals against Bahrain came from crosses, which could prove an equally very potent weapon against the Thai defence.
With the expected starters available, Thailand should be considered slight favourites, based on home advantage as well as previous games in the competition, but with Ekanit Panya withdrawn from the squad before the tournament had even started, losing Suphanat could prove extremely costly. Still, a draw doesn’t look an impossible feat, even without the Great Thai Hope on the pitch.