Thailand will have to act as ghostbusters if they are to overcome Singapore and win the AFF Suzuki Cup for a record fourth time at Bangkok’s Supachalasai Stadium on Saturday.
The War Elephants were badly wounded by the Lions in the first leg of the final going down 3-1 with the deepest bites being inflicted by goalscorers Fahrudin Mustafic, who grabbed the opener from the penalty spot, Khairul Amri and Baihakki Khaizan.
Defensive midfielder Adul Lahso grabbed the away goal that could prove crucial with a 2-0 victory in the return leg being enough to end Thailand's decade-long title drought.
For that to happen, they will have to exorcise the ghosts of tournaments past.
Since the inaugural Asean Football Championship in 1996, the team that has scored the first goal in the finals has always gone on to lift the trophy.
One of those sides was Singapore, who beat Thailand 2-1 in the first leg in 2007 before taking their third title with a 1-1 draw at the Supachalasai Stadium, Amri scoring the deciding goal in the 81st minute.
Thailand suffered the exact same fate in 2008 going down 2-1 in the first leg in Bangkok and drawing 1-1 in the return, the celebrated Le Cong Vinh delivering the coup de grace with an injury-time header.
While aware of the history, Thailand coach Winfried Schafer can fall back on personal milestones to inspire his side.
When he coached Karlsruhe in 1993, the German side lost 3-1 away to Spanish giants Valencia in the UEFA Cup round of 32 before bouncing back in style on home turf with a 7-0 victory.
“At the time, Valencia was one of the best teams in Spain,” said Schafer. “I have told the team the story, and I hope it will inspire them.”
Schafer said that Singapore fully deserved their 3-1 victory over Thailand at the Jalan Besar Stadium but he was confident his team would come good in the return leg.
“The 3-1 result in Singapore was correct, nobody is saying they were lucky,” he commented.
“We have to show the heart, the fighting spirit that we displayed in the run-up to Adul Lahso’s equaliser in Singapore. We have to play this style (for 90 minutes), it is our target.”
Schafer admitted that enforcer Fahrudin Mustafic had nullified the threat of midfield general Datsakorn Thonglao in the first leg with a successful man-to-man marking job but expected his playmaker to be more influential in the return.
“It was not our match (on Wednesday). Datsakorn has played well this tournament but against Singapore he was man-marked by Fahrudin Mustafic. Hopefully if he is marking him again on Saturday it (the contest) will turn out differently,” he said.
“I hope he plays the same style against Datsakorn. This time the match is in our stadium (in front of our fans).”
The tactically adroit Schafer, whose coaching credentials also include steering Cameroon to victory in the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations, has watched video replays of the first leg with his team and pinpointed the deficiencies.
“In the last match Singapore played well and were very accurate,” he said. “Now we have our (home) match. This morning we watched situations from the last match on video and I think our team wants to change the match. We have a good spirit and a good team. Our goal in Singapore was very, very important.
“(There were a lot of problems in Singapore), the (artificial) field and the way we gave Singapore players too much chance to hit long balls without anybody closing them down.”
Schafer gave short shrift to the possibility of him resigning if Thailand loses on Saturday and the idea that financial incentives would lift the team
“You talk about losing, we talk about winning,” he said.
“Maybe tomorrow one man will come and give five million (Thai) baht to the team, it is not important. Heart is important. They (the players) have to fight for Thailand. Will the players run more for money, no. They need good spirit,” added Schafer.