Thailand will need to show a marked improvement to keep alive their hopes of regaining the SEA Games title when they take on lowly Cambodia in a Group A match today.
A sense of trepidation has already infected the Thai camp after they made the worst possible start with a lethargic 2-1 defeat against the Malaysians on Wednesday. The score was the same when the two met in the tournament two years ago in Laos, which ended the Thais’ 16-year reign following a run of eight consecutive titles.
The latest result is an indicator that the Thai side have made little if any progress since the Vientiane debacle. Thailand could hardly complain about the outcome, after at times being outplayed by the Malaysians, who carved open the Thai defence almost at will. Only poor finishing prevented Malaysia from registering a bigger win.
With hosts Indonesia and Singapore, the other two top-tier nations in the region, lined up next, Thailand need to take maximum points against unfancied Cambodia, who lost their first two matches, to put their campaign back on track. Anything less than a win will likely spell doom for the Thais’ bid to regain the crown.
One man who must be dreading such a scenario is the president of the Football Association of Thailand, Worawi Makudi. Should Thailand exit at the group stage for the second consecutive time, it would no doubt spark a fresh bout of criticism against the chief.
The Thai team suffered a further blow when Veerawut Kayem, who was stretchered off in the second half of the Malaysia match, was ruled out of the tournament after being diagnosed with an ankle ligament injury which will keep him on the sidelines for up to three months. That gives coach Prapol Pongpanich more selection headaches, given that Theerathon Bunmathan, the other left-back in the squad, won’t join the team until Tuesday due to his involvement with the senior side in the World Cup qualifiers.
SEA Games squad manager Kasem Jariyawatwong admitted he had to put in a lot of effort to lift the mood of the team after the demoralising defeat to Malaysia but insisted his men would not throw in the towel so soon.
“The team’s morale remains good. Everyone is still focused on the job. I think the meeting with Indonesia will decide our fate. Before that, we have no option but to win the game tomorrow.
“I ask our fans to stay behind the team. It’s not the time to criticise yet. It’s very different when we play outside our country. But, I can assure you that we’ll do our best to achieve the best possible result,” said Kasem.