Despite having a physically inferior side, Thailand soccer coach Winfried Schafer says he’s not expecting an aerial bombardment from Australia in Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Brisbane.
The Socceroos kick off their qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014 against the Group D outsiders, and Schafer admits the match will be Thailand’s toughest outing in a group that also includes Saudi Arabia and Oman.
The experienced German, who led Cameroon to the African Nations Cup title in 2002, also faces a selection headache with several key players unavailable through injury.
Although the Socceroos attack features the twin threat of beanpole striker Josh Kennedy, currently top scorer in Japan’s J-League, and the famed heading ability of Tim Cahill, Schafer expects much of the match to be played along the ground.
“Australia do not play high balls, they play very good football with the ball going to strikers along the ground,” said Schafer.
“I watched the Australia team matches against Germany and also Wales.
“Australia are a very good team with good discipline. You must fight, you must run and you must play with courage against Australia.
“We are happy to qualify for this stage and have the chance to play against Australia.”
Thailand last week played out a scoreless draw against Singapore in their most recent international outing with Australia’s coach Holger Osieck, who has long been an acquaintance of Schafer’s, in Bangkok for the match.
The Thais will be without a trio of defenders this Friday with captain Nattaporn Phanrit the biggest loss.
Phanrit was not permitted by doctors to make the flight to Australia after collapsing in a domestic match a few weeks ago, however he is expected to return for Thailand’s home qualifier against Oman next Tuesday.
Phanrit is not the only defensive absentee with Panupong Wongsa and Natthaphong Samana out injured.
Thailand have also been shorn of regular first-choice goalkeeper Kawin Thammasatchanan who suffered an elbow injury two weeks ago, however Schafer says he has full confidence in his back-up options.
Much responsibility will fall on the shoulders of midfielder Datsakorn Thonglao – scorer of two goals when Thailand recorded a 3-2 aggregate World Cup victory against Palestine last month – who will wear the captain’s armband in place of Phanrit.
History does not favour Thailand who are ranked 120 in the world, some 98 places below Australia.
Australia won 4-0 the last time the two teams met in a 2007 Asian Cup match in Bangkok.