Indonesia vs Thailand: Upstarts take on Goliath in the Suzuki Cup final
Not quite David vs Goliath, but Cinderella story Indonesia meet raging favourites Thailand.
Just as the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup opened, so it closes with a clash between group combatants Indonesia and Thailand.
It finished 4-2 to the War Elephants on that occasion and such has been their dominance thereafter that they’ve not conceded a goal in the 400 or so minutes since Lerby Eliandry’s second-half strike in that clash.
While the Thais have reeled off five straight victories, Indonesia have booked their place in the final with one of the lowest winning percentages in tournament history, having only defeated Singapore and Vietnam in their five matches to date.
It’s little wonder then that Kiatisuk Senamuang’s team enter as hot favourites to claim back-to-back titles.
They have depth right across the pitch, highlighted by the key impact of the ‘squad’ players both in the final group match against the Philippines and off the bench against Myanmar in the semi-final.
With outstanding resources also available to the team off the pitch, they appear to have reached the final almost in cruise control.
They are also seemingly the fittest team at the tournament, as suggested by the fact four of their six group stage goals came in the final 11 minutes of matches, and it’s hard to find a weakness.
Indonesia were hamstrung pre-tournament by the restriction on club teams releasing only two players each to the national set-up and were expected to be rusty given a lengthy spell in the wilderness caused by a FIFA ban.
What they’ve shown though is that they’re a multi-faceted side; capable of attacking when required and also remaining resolute, compact and well organised when that is demanded – as it will be here.
There’s no question they have the attacking talent to get the goals they need to cause their opponents trouble – the bigger issue is if they can stop the Thai attacking juggernaut.
There are no major injury concerns for Indonesia but coach Alfred Riedl is believed to be agonising over several different tactical approaches, with a strong possibility he could retain the 4-4-2 approach that worked well in the second leg of his team’s semi-final win over Vietnam.
Thailand, meanwhile, have several concerns with captain Teerasil Dangda battling a muscle strain that’s kept him out of training this week.
Defenders Tanaboon Kesarat and Prathum Chutong have also been limited in training, with Kiatisuk admitting they will need to “have another look” at that pair prior to kick-off.
KEY BATTLE: SARACH YOOYEN vs STEFANO LILIPALY
This pair have, quietly, been among their nation’s best and this crucial battle could go a long way to determining who emerges on top here.
Sarach has been the ‘shield’ that has allowed Thailand the attacking freedom to push their fullbacks high and often, which in turn has seen the midfield and final third flooded with blue shirts who have passed their way to win after win.
Again he will be the fulcrum around which the team revolves.
THEIR LAST CLASH
Lilipaly has been one of the revelations of the tournament, with the Dutch-based midfielder drifting in between the lines to cause all sorts of problems, whether as part of a two-pronged frontline, playing off the shoulder of the main striker or in a more traditional No.10 role.
He loves to run at players, has a good passing range and is also capable of making crucial late runs into the box – all of which Sarach will be charged with preventing and/or limiting in what should be a key tactical battle.
Already the only man to win the tournament as both player and coach, Thai boss ‘Zico’ now stands on the verge of another record as he would join Peter Withe & Raddy Avramovic as the only men to have won back-to-back titles.
Riedl, in his third appearance in a final, will be aiming to lift the trophy for the first time after finishing as runner-up with Vietnam way back in 1998 and then Indonesia six years ago.
FACT AND FIGURES
- Thailand have only been held scoreless twice in their past 30 Suzuki Cup matches; a run that stretches right back to the 2007 edition.
- The War Elephants are aiming for a record fifth title; they currently share the all-time mark with Singapore.
- Thailand are aiming to become the first nation in the history of the tournament to win six matches in a row.
- This will be Indonesia’s fifth final – they’ve lost each of the previous ones in 2000, 2002, 2004 & 2010.
- Only twice before has a nation won back-to-back Suzuki Cup crowns with Thailand doing so in 2000 & 2002 and Singapore in 2004 & 2007.
This is a Thailand team that has given off the impression it has been almost playing within itself, waiting for the final to arrive. Now that it has, expect the War Elephants to really ramp things up.
Indonesia have the capacity to score against a team that likes to push high and leave themselves open to counters, but this slick Thai machine should equally be able to expose a nation which has conceded an average of two goals per game so far.
If things click the War Elephants could well take the comfort of a couple of away goals back to Bangkok for Saturday’s second leg, where the title could already be as good as in the bag.
Main photo: Thai FA