AFC U-23: Thailand the dark horse

Thailand U23 Welcome sign in Qatar

Welcome sign in Qatar
image: Finn Clausen

When Thailand kicks off his 2016 AFC U-23 Championship campaign to battle for a ticket to Rio 2016, you don't know really what to expect. Are they really a dark horse or will they be already eliminated after the group stage? A ticket for Rio, however, seems out of reach.

Of course, the question can only be answered at the earliest when the group stage is played. But from an early exit, to a surprisingly good tournament, everything is possible for Thailand's U-23. But many things must fit together. The preconditions are not bad. But there are also doubts.

Back home the hopes are high for a good performance of the 23-men squad. But yet no one may speak of a qualification to the Olympic Games in Rio of course. After all, Thailand would need to finish as third at least to qualify for the tournament in Brazil. And the last time the Thais have seen a team representing their colours at the Olympics was 48 years ago.

The team in the year of 2016, which participates for the first time in the AFC under-23 Championship, is coached by senior side coach Kiatisuk Senamuang. And seven to eight players of his squad is the core or the advanced circle of the national team. The hope, the confidence and the euphoria of fans in Thailand that their team could return home with a good result is mainly based on recent successes under Kitatisuk by winning the AFF Cup 2014, finishing fourth at the Asian Games 2014 and winning the SEA Games 2015. And equally does the foreign media, which names the Thai team one of the dark horse of the Championship.

The team is lead by no one else than AFF Cup MVP "Messi Jay" Chanathip Songkrasin. The 21-year-old has been appointed as captain of the team by coach Senamuang before the tournament. A comprehensible and certainly correct decision that could help the quicksilver player to mature and grow. Something that might help in his career, especially in the national team.

Alongside Chanathip other well-known players can be found in the squad, like Thitipan Puangchan, Tristan do, Tanaboon Kesarat and Narubadin Weerawatnodom. Rounded up by the captain of the U-19 of Thailand, Worachit Kanitsribampen from Chonburi and who is 18 years old and Chenrop Samphaodi another starlet from the under-19.

Overall, the squad has a lot of experience. On international as national level. 19 players of the 23-men-squad accumulate a total 382 Thai Premier League appearances 2015 alone. That is an average of 20 games per player.

But taking a closer look at the team, problems might manifest. Because many players were in action over a long period of time. For the national team at these aforementioned tournaments, as well as for their Clubs. Which means small room for regeneration and many of them may could have just too many games in their legs.

Looking at the goalkeepers the only one with sufficient match practice can be found with Rattanai Songsangchan. The goalkeeper from Police United, who spent the entire last season in Division1. Somporn Yos and Watchara Buathong had just to nine games to their names together during last years TPL season.

Tactical changes for most players, and it is the good bit. With Kiatisuk Senamuang as U-23 and A team trainer the core know expected him anyway, and what the coach expected.

The style of play of the U-23 should be hardly different to the one of the senoir side under Kiatisuk. Try to dominating the game through possesion as much as possible, to push the opponent in his own half, and should it be necessary, intercept the ball in the own half of a highly advanced opponent and switch from defense to offence as fast as possible and try to create a chance on the break.

One weak point in the Thais-eleven could be Tristian Do if he starts as right back. If Thailand controls the game and can play forward, he can play to his strength on the flanks in the opponents half. Defending is not one of his.

The match against Saudi Arabia on Wednesday is the prelude for Thailand. A game that Thailand can't afford to lose and which they should try to win if they want to have a chance at the knockout stage. Because Japan is waiting next on Saturday and even getting a point out of this tie would be more than a surprise. The game against North Korea will conclude the group games of Thailand. It is the same opponent the Thais have faced in last years qualifier to the current tournament which ended in a goalless stalemate.

All encounters with Thai participation can be watched in free-TV on Channel 7. And if you like you can listen to the latest episode of our new side project: the "Kick it like Asia podcast" with a preview of the U-23 Championship.
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