Tiny Thai club Sukhothai FC earn a date with Hulk and AVB

Sukhothai out-paced, out-muscled and out-maneuvered Burmese champions Yadanarbon in every department, coasting to a comfortable 5-0 victory that lands them a dream ticket away in the next round of Asian Champions League qualifying to Andre Villas-Boas’s star-laden Shanghai SIPG.

It’s no small achievement for the central Thai team, which hails from a town of just 35,000 people and is better known as an ancient Buddhist kingdom than a football powerhouse.

Just three years ago, Sukhothai FC were playing third-tier football in Thailand. Now they are just one match away from a Champions League group stage against Japanese, Korean and Australian contenders.

It’s fairytale stuff. It just doesn't get any better than this

- Jason Withe

In the next chapter of this classic Cinderella story, Sukhothai’s attention turns to Oscar, Hulk and the multi-million spending Shanghai PISG team away on February 7.

“It’s fairytale stuff,” Sukhothai’s English manager Jason Withe told FourFourTwo after the 5-0 thrashing. “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”

Sukhothai, who are known as the Fire Bats, were extraordinarily lucky to be even in this stage of the competition.

The passing of the Thai king last year sparked a sequence of events in the country’s football scene that resulted in Sukhothai winning a lottery to enter the continental competition.

Withe and his team were understandably thrilled by the result

But they have taken full advantage, with the Thai overachievers running out comfortable winners.

In-form Yadanarbon set out in their traditional 4-4-2 set-up and hoped to catch the Thais on the break, but from the off Sukhothai were a superior outfit.

The Myanmar team could not compete with their physicality, especially the striking force of Ivorian Bireme Diouf, fellow African John Baggio and Montenegrin Admir Adrović.

In reality the contest was over within the first 20 minutes. After a string of nifty attacks, Sukhothai won a foul on the right wing. A curling free-kick by Piyarat Lajungreed was flicked in delicately by Hiromichi Katano in the 12th minute as the keeper was left flapping at thin air.

Yadanarbon keeper Yan Aung Lin was soon picking the ball out the net again just four minutes later. Again from a free-kick, midfielder Losan Thiamrat pinpointed a delightful right-foot shot into the back of the net. The Burmese heads sank; 16 minutes in and the writing was already on the wall.

Katano ran the show in the first half, a Japanese Michael Carrick, poised and reassuring. He stood on the ball, took time to look around, and spread it majestically time after time.

The continental journey continues for Sukhothai and their fans

At half-time, Yadanarbon’s Belgian coach Rene Desaeyere threw on a midfielder and an attacker in a bold, all-or-nothing tactic. But the Myanmar side still couldn’t get into the contest.

The menacing Adrović netted twice more in quick succession – the first a lovely looping header; the second from the spot after he himself had been upended.

The Myanmar team could not compete with their physicality, especially the striking force of Ivorian Bireme Diouf, fellow African John Baggio and Montenegrin Admir Adrović

Around the Thalay Luang Stadium, the partisan 4,500-strong crowd broke into a Thai version of “Sukhothai is a place on earth”.

Desaeyere threw on platinum-haired striker Win Naing Soe as a last gamble, and it almost paid off. Yadanarbon were unlucky not to get a consolation goal after a couple of dainty one-two moves led to one-on-one chances, both of which the keeper smothered.

To rub salt into the Burmese wounds, Sukhothai substitute Weerasak thundered in a magnificent 25-yeard strike in the last minute.

“Five-nil. That was hard to take. Hard to take,” said the Yadanarbon coach in a post-match press conference. 

Photos: Colin Hinshelwood/FourFourTwo