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Nov 5, 2011

Thailand face uphill task to reclaim title


In their final group game in Vientiane, eight-time defending champions Thailand only needed to avoid defeat against Malaysia to progress.
They seemed to have secured a semi-final spot when they were leading 1-0 with a few minutes to go. Then lightning struck as Malaysia scored twice in the dying moments to schock the Thais.
And Thailand's bid to reclaim the title will not be easy as they are in Group of Death with hosts Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia.
Group B is considered much weaker with Vietnam and Burma favourites to advance against the Philippines, Laos, Brunei and East Timor.
The top two teams from each group progress to the semi-finals.
The draw upset Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Worawi Makudi who said: "I don't know which system they used for the draw. Normally, the hosts and the defending champions should be in separate groups."
While Kasem Jariyawatwong, the SEA Games football team manager, said it was a tough group, he looked on the bright side.
"It is good to be in a difficult group because this will be a good test for us," he said. "If we get past the first round, we will have a good chance of winning the gold medal."
While Thailand are in a tough group, critics and concerned parties - including Worawi - agree that the Thais have only one choice and anything less than the title will be unacceptable.
"We aim to win the gold medal and anything less will be deemed a failure," Worawi said.
"In the previous SEA Games, we underestimated our opponents quite a lot. We thought that no one could beat us but that attitude led to us being eliminated in the first round. That was a big lesson so we will not underestimate any side this time."
The team will be boosted by a 10 million baht bonus - six million baht from the FAT sponsors and four million baht from the government - if the team go all the way in Indonesia.
But the team's preparation has been hit by some problems.
Striker Teerasil Dangda and goalkeeper Kawin Thammasatchanant, both of Muang Thong United, are eligible for the SEA Games football tournament which is an under-23 competition. However, Teerasil is injured while Kawin is in the full national team.
The SEA Games team bosses have successfully added defender Teerathorn Boonmathon to their squad but Teerathorn is in Thailand's full national side which will travel to Saudi Arabia on Nov 11 and host Australia on Nov 15 in World Cup qualifiers.
This means he will be available for the SEA Games in Thailand's final group game against Singapore on Nov 17.
Kasem had complained that Teerathorn should not be in the full national squad because it was not likely that he would be used.
The SEA Games side have been forced to train in Phuket because of the flooding situation in Bangkok.
The team are coached by Prapol Pongpanich and his assistant Vitoon Kitmongkolsak who were both hand-picked by Kasem - probably for superstitious reason.
Thailand won gold at the 1997 SEA Games after beating Indonesia on their home soil in a penalty shoot-out in the final with Kasem being manager, Propol coach and Vitoon a key player.


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