Thailand saw their World Cup dream effectively disappear following their 3-1 defeat in Abu Dhabi in an entertaining game last night.
The War Elephants put up a brave fight but in reality they were outclassed by opponents 68 places above them in the world rankings. They conceded goals early in both halves but to their credit, they did not capitulate and were inches away from grabbing an unlikely point at the end.
The main difference between the two sides were UAE’s Omar and Nabkhout . Omar is a supremely gifted midfield player who ran the game from start to finish with his vision and exquisite passing skills.
In Nabkhout, UAE have a predatoty striker who has scored 36 goals in 45 games for his country and he should have come away with more than a double in this game, having spurned some excellent chances.
Thailand are crying out for an out and out goalscorer who can benefit from their at times, excellent approach play. However, they also have problems in the centre of defence where they desperately need a commanding centre-back who can marshal his defence.
Thailand’s rearguard was cut wide open by Omar time and time again as defenders failed to pick up runners, particularly down the middle.
It was vital that Thailand did not concede an early goal but that is what happened in the fourteenth minute. Following a cross from the right, Nabkhout had the time and space to turn the ball in with his midriff from virtually on the line.
Thailand appealed for offside and they would have been successful if another UAE forward had managed to get a touch on the ball as it travelled through to Nabkhout. Replays showed that the assistant referee got it right as no contact was made.
Following this, UAE poured forward with Omar pulling the strings. The Thai goal had a number of narrow escapes as the visitors struggled to get out of their own half.
However, Thailand rallied in the final ten minutes of the half and began to get behind the UAE defence, forcing a succession of corners. But a combination of disappointing delivery and failure to really attack the ball meant that they came to nought.
Thailand made the worst possible start to the second-half when they went further behind in the forty-seventh minute. Omar picked the ball up in his own half before delivering a perfect through ball to send Nabkhout racing clear beyond a wide-open Thai defence to thump his shot past the helpless keeper.
It looked all over for the visitors and a hammering was in the offing. However, UAE took their foot off the gas and Thailand began to have longer periods of possession.
They introduced Chanabut in the sixty-third minute and the substitute brought Thailand back in the game with his first touch two minutes later.
Chanabut latched onto a through ball down the left before advancing into the box and side-footing the ball into net at the far-post from a tight angle. An excellent finish.
Thailand now began to show some real belief and pushed the home side back, exploiting the space behind both shaky full-backs. Chanabut was proving to be a real threat and with Teerasil dropping deeper to allow him the space to run at defenders, an equalizer was not out of the question.
Thailand thought they’d got it nine minutes from time when following good work down the left, the ball came back off the post for Chanabut to joyfully turn into the net.
However, their celebrations were cut short by an assistant’s offside flag. The Thais could not believe it but replays showed that Chanabut was INCHES offside when the original shot came in.
Yet again, Thailand showed great character and came right back and should have levelled four minutes later. That man Chanabut was sent clear and he went round the advancing keeper but had been forced wide right.
Unfortunately he made a complete hash of trying to lift the ball into the empty net as defenders desperately tried to get back to clear.
It wasn’t an easy finish but it had to be taken and as Thailand pushed forward, they were caught on the break. The visitors were outnumbered at the back and when the ball came in from the left, Omar was coolness personified as he set up Khalil for an easy tap in.
That was the last act of the game and perhaps the final scoreline was a little harsh on Thailand following their spirited second-half display. But as mentioned previously, they lack the quality in key areas to hurt good sides.
Although Thailand will be disappointed, it must not be forgotten that they are a very young side (average age under 24) . They now have the chance to gain valuable experience against quality opposition from the remaining games.
The chances of Thailand getting to Russia were always very slim and it’s fair to say that they’ve not had the best of luck. In fact their bad luck started with the draw for the two groups and there is no doubt Group B is much stronger than Group A.
It will be interesting to see how they perform against Iraq on Tuesday.