FFT’s Kenneth Tan marvels at the Thailand Under-23s who put on a masterful performance on Monday night to clinch their 15th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games Gold medal…
Star performer: Chanathip Songkrasin (THA)
Chanathip is the only Southeast Asian player to appear in FFT's Asia 50. Click here to read about his desire to represent Barcelona one day, or here to see which other players close to you made it into this elite list.
Top-class players rise to the occasion and Chanathip certainly did as he produced some truly magical football in front of 31,143 watching fans at the Singapore Sports Hub.
The man dubbed ‘Messi Jay’ sprayed his usual killer passes around all night, and was at the heart of nearly every promising move Choketawee Promrut’s outfit put together.
One such move paid off for Thailand’s second goal of the night as his slide-rule pass cut through the Burmese defence like a hot knife through butter, leaving Chananan Pombubpha with the easiest job of finishing from close range.
Chanatip’s spectacular performance just edges out that of Myanmar goalkeeper Kyaw Zin Phyo, who made a series of excellent saves to keep the scoreline respectable. The custodian cannot be faulted for any of the three goals his side conceded.
Could do better: Shine Thura (MYA)
Having impressed in the group stages, Thura had been expected to produce the goods in this showpiece final.
The 19-year-old forward seemed overawed by the occasion, however, too often electing to go solo and thus losing possession in the final third. He eventually failed to add to the two goals he recorded till then in the competition, and had to settle for a Bronze medal.
One of the decisive factors in the result of this game came off the field, instead of on it. There was a proper selection headache at the heart of defence for Thai coach Choketawee, with both Adisorn Promrak and Tanaboon Kesarat taking turns to impress alongside ever-present Artit Daosawang.
Eventually Choketawee decisively picked the latter and it was a decision that truly paid dividends, as Tanaboon put on a great shift at the back and also contributed at the other end.
First, his superbly-timed challenge on Thura on the half-hour mark, when the latter was about to launch a run into the box, was immaculate. Nine minutes after the break, he took his most significant touch with a swipe of his right boot, getting the team’s crucial opener.
The ball fell into the BEC Tero Sasana defender’s path after Nurul Sriyankem’s inswinging corner was half-cleared, and the rest was history.
As expected, Myanmar went with their usual hard pressing tactics to break down Thailand’s flowing style of football, constantly heckling their opponents whenever they were in possession of the ball.
That worked well in the first 45 minutes where the junior War Elephants found it hard to break into the Burmese box, leaving them to try ambitious shots from range which often ballooned over target. For once, Thailand found themselves evenly matched in the battle for midfield as Hlaing Bo Bo and Ye Ko Oo stood up well to Sarach Yooyen and Thitiphan Puangjan.
Myanmar’s energetic pressing took a toll on tired legs and minds that had been playing a game every three days by that point. The plucky underdogs were always bound to tire in the second period and from then on, it had been just a question of when their resistance would be broken.
That came shortly after the restart when Kyi Lwin’s side failed to clear three successive corners, paving the way for Thai centre-back Tanaboon to become the eventual hero.
Resistance crumbled as expected thereafter as the Thais reverted to playing through balls in behind their opponents’ backline as Chananan Pombubpha and substitute Pinyo Inpinit mercilessly exploited Myanmar’s exhaustion.
They came, they saw and they conquered – the junior War Elephants played with a certain swagger throughout and left no doubt in anyone’s mind that the best team in the tournament won it in the end.
They were complete in every department, as they blasted in 24 goals and conceded just once in the seven matches played. It was not just the first team regulars who played pivotal roles. Every player in the 20-man squad played at least one full game in a victorious campaign, with 12 out of their 18 outfield players scoring at least one goal.
That figure includes the likes of right-backs Narubadin Weerawatnodom and Tristan Do, who contributed two each. Nowhere else had been a clearer indication of the depth at their disposal.
The duo fulfilled their defensive responsibilities to perfection as well beside Artit and the rest of the backline, which swept up virtually everything that came their way all tournament.
With such an impressive golden showing, this surely signals the dawn of a new era in Thai football, the future clearly lying with the present crop of starlets. It will only be a matter of time before the likes of Artit, Thitiphan, Pinyo, Nurul and Rungrat Phumichantuk become cornerstones of the senior side too.
Southeast Asia and beyond is definitely at their feet now, and it’s up to them to cement their places in the world as well as Thai football folklore.
All images: Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee