Thailand are through to the final of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup after beating ten-man Philippines 3-0 in the second leg of their semi-final tie to seal a 3-0 aggregate win.
Chanathip Songkrasin got the War Elephants off to a dream start when he struck from close range in the sixth minute, before Kroekrit Thaweekarn doubled their lead two minutes before the hour mark.
Philippines’ hopes of mustering a miraculous comeback were then effectively ended in the 82nd minute when they had Martin Steuble sent off, and the hosts went on to seal a commanding victory when Kroekrit struck again five minutes later.
The result means the Thais are now just 180 minutes away from being crowned champions of Southeast Asia for a fourth time – and their first since 2002 – which will also see them equal Singapore’s record number of titles.
With Adisak Kraisorn suspended for the game after being sent off in last Saturday’s first leg at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, as well as Kirati Keawsombat missing through injury, much of the pre-match talk surrounded who Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang would pick to spearhead his attack.
But despite having both Sompong Soleb and Chainarong Tathong in reserve, the legendary striker opted to deploy playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin as the focal point up front, and the move worked to perfection after just six minutes.
Meeting Peerapat Notechaiya’s searching left-wing cross, Narubodin Weerawatnodom did well to nod the ball back into the path of Chanathip Songkrasin, who kept his cool despite being surrounded by a sea of defenders before lashing his shot home.
It could easily have been 2-0 four minutes later when Chanathip dinked a lovely through-ball to release Monkol Tossagri inside the box, only for Patrick Deyto to rush out well and deny him in a one-on-one situation.
Buoyed by their excellent start to the contest, the hosts began to gain a stranglehold on proceedings and were dominating proceedings, while their opponents were really struggling to create any opportunities of their own.
The War Elephants had another good chance in the 38th minute when Philippines could only clear Narubodin’s dangerous cross as far as to Peerapat, but he was only able to send a fierce 25-yard effort over the bar.
It then looked as though Thailand could live to regret their failure to make the most of their first-half supremacy; Prakit Deeprom racing through to latch onto Chanathip’s visionary pass a minute before halftime and opting for the pass despite having only Deyto to beat, which resulted in him playing the ball just too far ahead of Charyl Chappuis.
Nonetheless, the Azkals did come out after the break with renewed vigour, knowing an away goal could drastically change the complexion of the game.
Martin Steuble nearly grabbed that for them seven minutes into the second half but he was unable to beat Kawin Thamsatchanan, who produced a fantastic save to tip his long-range piledriver to safety.
Chanathip, who was pivotal in everything his side were creating in the attacking third, then came close to grabbing his second of the evening in the 54th minute when he pounced on a clearance and fired away a firm effort that forced Deyto into a smart save down low.
However, just two minutes later, Thailand finally made it 2-0 when Prakit Deeprom produced a defence-splitting pass to find Kroekrit, who got in behind Simone Rota and did well to hold off the defender’s desperate challenge before slotting into the bottom corner.
With a two-goal cushion now in their grasp, the hosts were always likely to be able to play out the remainder of the game and seal their progress into the final.
Still, that did not stop them from looking to hit on the break with Philippines pushing more and more men forward, and Kroekrit perhaps could have done better in the 80th minute when he fired into the side-netting from a tight angle after being released by Chanathip.
Just two minutes later, the visitors’ bid to claw their way back into the contest was made near-impossible; Steuble being shown his second yellow after clattering into Prakit in the middle of the park.
And three minutes from time, Thailand added a third to act a touch of gloss to a commanding display as Kroekrit broke free once more down the left and skipped inside Aguinaldo, before finishing past a hapless Deyto.
Thailand: Kawin Thamsatchanan, Narubodin Weerawatnodom, Suttinun Phuk-hom, Tanaboon Kesarat, Peerapat Notechaiya, Sarach Yooyen, Charyl Chappuis, Prakit Deeprom (Adul Lahso 84’), Monkol Tossagri (Sarawut Masuk 77’), Kroekrit Thaweekarn (Sompong Soleb 89’), Chanathip Songkrasin.
Philippines: Patrick Deyto, Simone Rota (Mark Hartmann 70’), Amani Aguinaldo, Rob Gier, Daisuke Sato (Patrick Reichelt 32’), Manny Ott, Jerry Lucena, Martin Steuble, Paul Mulders (Chris Greatwich 73’), Misagh Bahadoran, Phil Younghusband.