Thailand begin final quest
Thailand are ready to begin their push to regain the AFF Suzuki Cup when they host Malaysia in the first leg of the final at Rajamangala National Stadium tonight.
“We are ready for the final. Our players are looking forward to the final, and are fit enough to play for the whole 90 minutes tomorrow,’’ Thailand coach Kiatisak Senamuang said yesterday.
He said he had not yet decided whether to use midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin or forward Adisak Kraisorn as a lone striker.
Adisak was suspended in the War Elephants’ 3-0 win against the Philippines in the second leg of the semi-final at Rajamangala last week, following a scoreless draw in the first leg in Manila.
With first-choice striker Kirati Kaewsombut ruled out due to injury, Chanathip played as a lone striker and opened the scoring in the match.
Kiatisak won three Asean titles as a player and Thailand are now chasing a record-equalling fourth title.
One of Thailand’s best strikers of all time, Kiatisak captained the Thailand team that last won the crown in 2002. He has never lost to Malaysia as a player or as a coach.
Thailand captain and goalkeeper Kawin Thammasatchanan said he is hopeful his youthful team will not freeze on the big stage, as the War Elephants attempt to break a 12-year drought.
“In the last edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup [in 2012], we came close to the title [before losing to Singapore in the final],” said Kawin.
“To play two finals in a row is a difficult job but I would like to tell the Thai fans that we are eager to play the last two games of this tournament and win the title. We will have 50,000 fans cheering us on [at Rajamangala] and we are very well-prepared for the final.”
Malaysia coach Dollah Saleh said: “We came here to take a good result back to Malaysia, and we are ready to play.”
Malaysia have played well away from home in the current tournament. The Tigers beat hosts Singapore 3-1 in their final group game to advance to the semi-finals.
They lost 2-1 to Vietnam in the first leg of the semi-final in Kuala Lumpur but sealed a shock 4-2 win in Hanoi.
“Hopefully we can do the same in Bangkok as we did in Hanoi. I did not expect we would play that well but we did it. It is a good sign,” Saleh said.
Thailand beat Malaysia 3-2 in the group stage in Singapore with Adisak scoring twice and Saleh highlighted the danger posed by the Thai striker.
“Adisak does not miss many chances [as] he showed when he netted two goals against us in the group stage,” Saleh said.
He is also wary of Chanathip and winger Kroekrit Thaweekarn, who scored two goals against the Philippines.
The second leg of the final will be played at Bukit Jalil on Saturday.