Despite a tough week, Zico insists Thailand still have no fear

With the victorious Japanese team already halfway to the airport and a storm of biblical proportions bucketing down barely metres away, Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang stood in the bowels of the Rajamangala Stadium and boldly told FourFourTwo his side “doesn’t fear anybody”...

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Although the table may tell a different story, the past week should still be viewed as an impressive step up the continental ladder for Thailand, despite a narrow loss in Saudi Arabia and a more comprehensive 2-0 defeat against Asian powerhouse Japan.

While the side won plaudits for its impressive showing in the heat of Riyadh, the commentary was more reserved following a slightly off-colour showing in the home opener, but the man known universally as ‘Zico’ was full of praise for his team.

It’s not an ideal situation having two losses from our opening two matches, but against Japan two-nil is probably not a bad result

- Zico

“We tried to do our best in the first game against Saudi Arabia and can consider ourselves unlucky and that made the players upset, but we know we had no choice to try and ‘play’ against Japan,” he told FourFourTwo.

“Of course they’re the biggest team in Asia and we knew all about the quality of Japan and we came into the match knowing that we had to try to keep things tight defensively.

“In the end though our attack suffered and we couldn’t play as we wanted to even in front of our home crowd, but we also had to be careful with our approach.”

The contrast between the two matches was stark: against the Saudis, Thailand pressed right from the opening whistle, harrying the hosts, closing down space and forcing frequent turnovers which gave them a glut of attacking chances.

Against the Japanese though things were far tougher as Vahid Halilhodzic’s side was able to pass its way through and around that defensive pressure. When possession did come, it was far too frequently conceded after a matter of one or two passes.

Japan proved too strong in Bangkok

It’s hard to avoid the thought that here was a result as much about psychological issues as it was technical or tactical ones.

Much as the Japanese themselves often ‘freeze’ when placed in pressure situations against stronger opponents, so too the Thais were in many ways their own worst enemies in Bangkok.

The confidence in possession and dynamic movement off the ball so impressively present in the Middle East turned into a performance where they were bullied off the ball and out-thought by a more patient visiting team.

The coach though argues that rather than any mental issues, this was a performance where they had to adjust tactically and rein in their natural attacking tendencies to try to contain Japan for as long as possible.

“It’s not an ideal situation having two losses from our opening two matches, but against Japan we can say that, OK, two-nil is probably not a bad result.

“We didn’t get the points we wanted and we tried to build up the players to have belief and to go forward, but I think that if we attacked more then we may have lost by many goals not just by two,” he argued.

The positives and negatives were present in equal measure, but it’s also instructive to look at the composition of the two sides and how both development and foreign exposure has worked differently in the two nations.

From a position barely two decades ago where there was no professional league in Japan, they now boast arguably the most competitive one in Asia, regularly export a host of players to top European clubs and have won three of the past five Asian Cups.