Missing Thai stars hand AFF boost to Vietnam

Scott McIntyre gives his view on how the absence of Thailand’s foreign-based stars will affect their chances at the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup.

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Whether the call came from the new coach, the federation or from the clubs involved, the fact that Thailand will be without their four most recognisable stars for the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup means that the title is now Vietnam’s to lose.

As I wrote several months ago the fact that only the first part of the group stage falls in a FIFA window meant that it was always going to be a struggle to obtain the services of the three Japan-based players in Chanathip Songkrasin, Teerathon Bunmathan and Teerasil Dangda.

Goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan, who has had a torrid time at Thai-owned Belgian second division side OH Leuven, has also been excused as his team sits bottom of the ladder with just a single win through seven matches and are fighting to avoid the drop to the amateur leagues.

Whilst there’s no lack of depth in Thai football there’s equally no question that removing your best goalkeeper, defender, attacking midfielder and forward is bound to have some kind of an impact.

As new coach, Milovan Rajevac, noted though in speaking to the AFF Suzuki Cup website the absence of the star quartet does at least open the door for others to impress ahead of January’s Asian Cup.

If, as has been suggested, that includes a core group from the U23 squad that crashed out in the group stage of the recent Asian Games then that tournament has served its purpose in trying to establish a transition from the youth teams through to the senior one.

It all has the feel that Rajevac will likely use the Suzuki Cup as a test event for the Asian Cup and whilst that’s within his rights to do so, you have to wonder what any kind of struggles at the Southeast Asian showpiece could do for confidence heading into the continental one.