Thailand are 90 minutes away from being crowned champions of Southeast Asia for a fourth time after claiming a 2-0 win over Malaysia in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final.
Following a goalless first half at the Rajamangala Stadium, Charyl Chappuis opened the scoring with a penalty in the 72nd minute before Kroekrit Thaweekarn added a second four minutes from time to seal the win on Wednesday evening.
The Thais will now head into Saturday’s second leg at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium knowing even a one-goal defeat would be enough to hand them their first regional title since 2002.
However, although the victory was a deserving result given the way they dominated proceedings for much of the first leg, it did look as though the War Elephants could live to regret their initial profligacy after wasting a host of excellent chances.
Their first clear-cut opportunity arrived after just four minutes when Narubodin Weerawatnodom charged forward on the overlap before cutting the ball back to Monkol Tossagri, only for him to blaze over from ten yards.
Two minutes later, Malaysia had an opening for their own when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha latched onto Indra Putra Mahayuddin’s deft flick, only for his blistering half-volley to be kept out by a fine save from Kawin Thamsatchanan.
Kroekrit was next to threaten for the hosts when he fired a low shot into the side-netting before Sarach Yooyen had a long-range strike smothered by Farizal Marlias, but their best chance came two minutes before the break.
Pouncing on an error from Fadhli Shas, Adisak Kraisorn broke free and raced through on goal but, despite looking odds on to open the scoring, he could only fire a low shot into the right foot of Farizal, who looked on in relief as the ball looped past the post and to safety.
Undeterred by that miss, the Thais continued to press on in the second half but Monkol was wasteful again nine minutes after the break, lashing over on the half-volley after being picked out inside the area by Narubodin’s right-wing pass.
Adisak too was beginning to increasingly find himself in dangerous positions and he was unlucky to send a ferocious left-footed strike on the turn over two minutes later, after doing well to break free inside the box and run onto a throw-in from Narubodin.
By now, Malaysia were really starting to find themselves on the back foot but they still looked threatening on the counter; Safiq Rahim giving the Thais a warning in the 62nd minute when his snapshot was kept out by a vital block from Suttinun Phuk-hom after he had exchanged passes with Norshahrul just outside the box.
Nonetheless, the breakthrough did finally arrive in the 70th minute when Farizal could only parry Chanathip Songkrasin’s long-range drive and Prakit Deeprom reacted quickest to help the ball back into the danger zone.
Adisak was once again on hand to receive possession but was felled by Fadhli just as he was about to turn towards goal, winning the hosts a penalty that was clinically fired into the bottom corner by Chappuis.
But despite now having a lead to sit back on, the War Elephants continued to push forward in search of a second goal to strengthen their position ahead of what is bound to be a tough return encounter in hostile conditions in Kuala Lumpur at the weekend.
And in the 86th minute, they did just that as Chanathip latched onto Prakit’s incisive through-pass and advanced on goal, before unselfishly squaring the ball to leave Kroekrit with the simplest of finishes.
Still, Harimau Malaya could have pulled one back – and grab a valuable away goal in the process – deep into injury-time when Indra Putra met a deep cross with a deft header that was destined for the top corner, but Kawin was able to claw it to safety and cap off a perfect evening’s work for Thailand.
Thailand: Kawin Thamsatchanan, Narubodin Weerawatnodom, Suttinun Phuk-hom, Tanaboon Kesarat, Peerapat Notechaiya, Sarach Yooyen (Adul Lahso 90’), Charyl Chappuis, Chanathip Songkrasin, Monkol Tossagri (Prakit Deeprom 69’), Kroekrit Thaweekarn, Adisak Kraisorn.
Malaysia: Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan, Shukor Adan, Fadhli Shas, Zubir Azmi, Safiq Rahim, Badhri Radzi (Baddrol Bakhtiar 76’), Azamuddin Akil, Indra Putra Mahayuddin, Amri Yahyah (Safee Sali 76’), Norshahrul Idlan Talaha.