Thailand look to take the next step

After conquering Southeast Asia, Thailand now set their sights on the Asian Cup.

    Thailand's exciting striker Teeratep Winothai, front,
    could cause some surprises at the Cup [GALLO/GETTY]

    Thailand, the big guns of Southeast Asian football, are looking to make their mark against the greater continent by using home ground advantage to lift them into the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup.

    Having qualified for six Asian Cups Thailand's best effort was third place in 1972, but apart from that they have not gone past the first round, and finished bottom of a tough group at the last tournament in China after losing to Oman, Japan and Iran.

    The 2007 Asian Cup will be no easier, as the joint-hosts once again have a tough draw as t
    hey take on Iraq, Oman and tournament favourites Australia in their Group A matches at the Rajamalang National Stadium in Bangkok.

    The national stadium holds 100,000, and although Thai's are mad football supporters, it is still doubtful that the 'extra man' will get their team out of the first round.

    In the 1990s, Thailand seemed on the brink of becoming the first team from Southeast Asia to break into the continent's elite after a string of encouraging results at club and international level.

    However after all the promise the kingdom has little to show as they have yet to make it past the preliminary rounds in seven attempts of World Cup qualifying since 1974, while the Asian Cup has proved equally frustrating.

    Thailand's strength is speed on the counter-attack with Dutsakorn Thonglao their main creative force and dead-ball specialist, while exciting striker Teeratep Winothai is capable of springing a surprise.

    Since making his international debut two years ago, the 22-year-old Teeratep has become a huge star in Thailand and even had stints with the Crystal Palace and Everton youth teams.

    Good preparation

    Another celebrity is forward Kiatisuk Senamuang, known as 'Zico' in football-crazy Thailand for the way he plays.

    The former Huddersfield Town striker has notched up over 100 appearances for the national side and scored over 60 goals, and if fit he could be the inspiration needed if the Thai's are to make the next step.

    Thailand's preparation for the Asian Cup has included a shock 1-0 victory over China in mid-May and a 3-1 defeat against Holland before a successful training camp in Germany where they beat three under-strength local teams.

    "They are very fit now," Chanvit Pholchivin, Thai coach, said of the players.

    "The training was very useful and we learned a lot of things.

    "But our strikers need to start putting their chances away. We put pressure on ourselves by not scoring more."

    Chanvit remains a popular figure in Thailand despite almost leaving the national coaching role in favour of a club side in Vietnam in March.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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