Monday, 17 December 2012

Up close with Thailand’s best XI

While emphasising that he has a strong squad of 22 players, Thailand coach Winfried Schafer has started his best XI in three of their five matches so far in the AFF Suzuki Cup. 

An injury to midfield dynamo Datsakorn Thonglao forced Schafer to make one change for the important group game against Myanmar, bringing in Sumanya Purisay, but the three-time champions were back at full strength for the two-legged semi-final with defending champions Malaysia.

Ahead of the AFF Suzuki Cup showdown with Singapore, profiles Thailand’s likely starting XI.

Kawin Thamsatchanan, position - goalkeeper, club - Muangthong United, age - 22, nickname - Tong
Kawin, preferred in goals to Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool, has been well protected by the back four but has shown his class when called into action. A reflex save from a pointblank header by Malaysia’s Safee Sali in the closing minutes of the semi-final first leg ensured Thailand returned to Bangkok with a 1-1 draw.

Piyaphon Buntao, right full-back, Muangthong United, 25, Dai
His marauding runs down the right have posed problems for defences although the final cross has often been lacking. However, he picked out Teerasil Dangda with a great outswinging ball for Thailand’s equaliser in the first leg of the semi-final against defending champions Malaysia.

Panupong Wongsa, centre back, Muangthong United, 29, Mai 
A rock at the centre of defence, the captain has proved a talismanic leader on the field with frequent urgings to his teammates. He has played a total of 383 minutes, featuring for the full 90 minutes in four matches and coming on as a substitute against Vietnam, and has hardly put a foot wrong.

Chonlatit Jantakam, centre back, Chonburi, 27, Chon
A no-nonsense defender, Chonlatit has combined well with Panupong to form a wall in front of Kawin. Technically sound, his distribution from defence has been first rate.

Theerathon Bunmathan, left full back, Buriram United, 22, Aum
The gifted Theerathon has lived up to his pre-tournament billing as a player to watch during the AFF Suzuki Cup. He has proved a constant danger with his overlapping runs and inswinging deliveries from corners and free kicks. Played in midfield against Malaysia in the semi-final second leg and topped off a fine performance with Thailand’s second goal.

Adul Lahso, defensive midfielder, Chonburi, 26, Dul
Patrolling the area in front of the back four, Adul has diligently gone about his business without fanfare. He has shown fine positional sense, anticipation and solid tackling in the unglamorous defensive midfield role.

Datsakorn Thonglao, central midfielder, Muangthong United, 28, Ko
Quite simply, the gifted Datsakorn makes Thailand tick bringing panache and purpose to their play. A consistent performer for club and country over the past decade, Datsakorn has shrugged off a nagging groin injury that kept him out of the group games against Myanmar and Vietnam and was at his influential best in the semi-final clashes with Malaysia. Coach Winfried Schafer played him in a more forward position against Malaysia in the semi-final second leg, a role he may be asked to reprise in the final.

Phichitphong Choeichiu, central midfielder, Muangthong United, 30, Pae
Like Datsakorn, Phichitphong has featured for Thailand at international level for more than 10 years. He has a good understanding with his club teammate and like him has an eye for a killer pass. Shut down by Malaysia in the semi-final first leg, he was replaced by Apipoo Suntornpanavej at half-time of the return leg in Bangkok and could find himself on the bench against Singapore in the final.

Jakkapan Pornsai, right-sided midfielder, Muangthong United, 25, Ball
The slightly built Jakkapan has caught the eye as much for his flair as his dyed blond hair. He has proved a handful on the right side with his pace and dribbling skills.

Anucha Kitpongsri, left-sided midfielder, Chonburi, 29, Boy
He announced his arrival at the AFF Suzuki Cup with a great goal in Thailand’s opening 2-1 win over the Philippines, the victory that set the tone for their campaign. Equally as comfortable as an attacking midfielder or defender, Anucha swapped positions with Theerathon in the semi-final second leg against Malaysia and the duo tormented down the left flank with their one-touch passing and strong running.

Teerasil Dangda, striker, Muangthong United, 24, Mui
Thailand has long been searching for a reliable goal-scorer in the mould of the celebrated Piyapong Pue-on and they seem to have found him in the shape of Teerasil Dangda. He came into the AFF Suzuki Cup on the back of scoring 24 goals for 2012 Thai Premier League champions Muangthong United and has carried on in the same vein. He nabbed a hat-trick in the 4-0 victory over Myanmar, scored the equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Malaysia in the semi-final first leg with a bullet header and calmly slotted home the opener in the 2-0 win over the defending champions in the return leg. His five goals have taken him top of the scoring charts in the AFF Suzuki Cup and his form suggests there are more to come in the two-legged final with Singapore.

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