Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia to meet; Lions set for Japan duel

Three of Southeast Asia’s traditional heavyweights – Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia – will face off in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers are they were all drawn in Group F on Tuesday.

The draw for the second round of qualification took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and saw a total of ten teams from Southeast Asia find out their path to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which will see each of them play eight matches from June to next March.

Apart from the World Cup, the qualifiers will also double up for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, which means Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia all stand an excellent chance of progressing to the continent’s biggest tournament.

Although Iraq are favourites to finish top of Group F, the trio of Southeast Asian countries will all fancy their prospects of fighting it out for second place, given the remaining team is minnows Chinese Taipei.

Over in Group E, Singapore and Cambodia both face a tricky route to the next round after being pitted against Asian giants Japan, Syria and Afghanistan.

Malaysia find themselves in Group A along with regional rivals Timor-Leste, although they will be aware they will have to get a result against either United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia or Palestine to have any chance of advancing to the Asian Cup.

Neighbours Myanmar and Laos will meet in Group G along with Korea Republic, Kuwait and Lebanon, while Philippines face Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Korea DPR and Yemen in Group H.

2018 FIFA World Cup Second Round Qualifying Draw

Group A: United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Timor Leste, Malaysia

Group B: Australia, Jordan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh

Group C: China, Qatar, Maldives, Bhutan, Hong Kong

Group D: Iran, Oman, India, Turkmenistan, Guam

Group E: Japan, Syria, Afghanistan, Singapore, Cambodia

Group F: Iraq, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Chinese Taipei

Group G: Korea Republic, Kuwait, Lebanon, Myanmar, Laos

Group H: Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Philippines, Korea DPR, Yemen

2014 AFF Suzuki Cup Team of the Tournament

The final ball has been kicked and it is Thailand who have emerged triumphant after being crowned champions of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Given they were widely regarded as favourites before the tournament began, it should come as no surprise that they have reclaimed their status as the number one side in Southeast Asia for the first time since 2002.

Over the past month, several members of the War Elephants established themselves as national heroes following their pivotal roles in bringing a fourth regional crown back to Thailand, including the likes of Kawin Thamsatchanan, Chanathip Songkrasin and Charyl Chappuis.

However, a number of players from Malaysia can also hold their heads high after leading their side to an impressive – and what many assumed was impossible – run to the final, while Philippines and Vietnam also gave a good account of themselves before ultimately falling at the semi-final stage.

Here, Football SEA picks our best players from the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup in a 4-2-3-1 formation, including seven substitutes, as well as our top coach from the tournament.

GK: Kawin Thamsatchanan (Thailand)

He may not have been the busiest of goalkeepers given the Thais dominated almost all their matches, but – whenever he was called upon – Kawin proved to be equal to the task.

The Muangthong United man’s finest game was arguably the 0-0 draw against Philippines in the first leg of the semi-finals, when he refused to be beaten even after his side were reduced to ten men following Adisak Kraisorn’s dismissal.

Kawin got better as the tournament wore on and kept a vital clean sheet in the first leg of the final after producing fine stops to deny Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Indra Putra Mahayuddin, which went a long way in helping the Thais claim the title.

RB: Simone Rota (Philippines)

If there were doubts over who Philippines’ first-choice right-back was ahead of the tournaments, there should no longer be any after Rota’s determined displays throughout the tournament.

The 30-year-old’s campaign got off to a fine start when he opened the Azkals’ account with a well-taken equaliser in the 4-1 Group A win over Laos, which helped settle their nerves after Khampheng Sayavutthi had fired their opponents in front.

Rota came face to face with some of the region’s most-dangerous wingers, including Zulham Zamrun and Kroekrit Thaweekarn, but never lowered his colours apart from one testing encounter against Vietnam’s Pham Thanh Luong during the group stage.

CB: Shukor Adan (Malaysia)

Alas, it was not to be for the 35-year-old as he failed to finish off his international career with a Suzuki Cup winner’s medal.

But Shukor will have no shame in the manner in which he signed off on his 14 years with Malaysia, especially given how many questioned his selection in the squad before the start of the tournament.

Handed the captain’s armband by Harimau Malaya coach Dollah Salleh, Shukor relished the challenge of leading his troops and at times looked to be the only one holding the shaky backline together, and was arguably his side’s best player throughout.

CB: Tanaboon Kesarat (Thailand)

With Thailand boss Kiatisuk Senamuang opting to leave out experienced defenders like Panupong Wongsa, Chonlatit Jantakam and Nataporn Phanrit, many wondered how the backline would hold up against the region’s deadliest strikers.

To be fair, it was in defence where the War Elephants looked the most vulnerable at times but they ultimately got the job done, and Tanaboon deserves plenty of credit for the way he stepped up despite his tender years.

Blessed with an ability to read the play, strong physical attributes as well as good technique, the future looks extremely bright for the 21-year-old, who also showed in the 2-0 Group B victory over Myanmar that he’s more than capable of being deployed in midfield.

LB: Peerapat Notechaiya (Thailand)

Peerapat started the tournament as Kiatisuk’s first-choice left-back in the 2-1 win over Singapore, although a niggling injury then saw him replaced by veteran Chayapat Kitpongsritada in the next two games.

But once he regained full fitness, the BEC Tero Sasana starlet was straight back into the team and displayed remarkable maturity for a 21-year-old, as well as impressing with his tireless running down the flank.

Thailand may currently be blessed with a host of talented left-backs, including 2013 Thai Premier League Player of the Year Theerathon Bunmathan, but Peerapat could just make the position his own if he continues to develop and realise his full potential.

CM: Sarach Yooyen (Thailand)

Given the number of famous names in the Thailand side, it was perhaps easy to overlook a pint-sized defensive midfielder by the name of Sarach Yooyen, although those who did notice him would be aware of just how important he was to the team.

Despite his slight frame, the Muangthong youngster had plenty of bite in his challenges as he looked to shield his defenders, but it was the way he broke up opposition attacks with his understanding of the game that made him stand out as an anchorman.

Once he had won possession, he was always looking to get his team on the front foot with his precise distribution, and he was also never afraid to have a go himself; his blistering freekick in the second leg of the final that forced Farizal Marlias into a flying save eventually led to Chappuis’ pivotal strike.

CM: Safiq Rahim (Malaysia)

It can be argued that Safiq still did not display his true ability despite finishing the tournament as the top scorer with six goals, and playing as a traditional central midfielder no less.

Given his obvious talent, the Johor Darul Ta’zim playmaker did not always get into the game and lacked the urgency in several key moments when his side needed it badly.

But for sheer impact and ability to keep his nerve in the biggest moments, Safiq gets the nod after his four clinically-taken penalties, along with a fine individual effort and a sublime freekick, helped Harimau Malaya get as close to winning the title as they did.

RW: Amri Yahyah (Malaysia)

Along with Shukor, Amri was perhaps the one Malaysian player that emerged from the tournament with plenty of credit to his name.

His selflessness and versatility have always been known to fans given how he’s often been deployed as a winger rather than his favoured position as a striker, but the way he – at times – looked to singlehandedly drag his side over the line was nothing short of inspirational.

Amri may have finished the tournament with only one goal to his name but much of the good work he produced was done in the build-up, and he did almost provide the goal of the tournament in the 3-2 Group B loss to Thailand after his stunning 60-yard lob over Kawin came crashing back off the bar.

AM: Phil Younghusband (Philippines)

For the third tournament in a row, the Azkals progressed to the last four to reaffirm their status as one of Southeast Asia’s major forces.

Despite having got among the goals in 2010 and 2012, Younghusband unfairly entered the tournament with queries from some quarters over his big-game mentality, despite being Philippines’ all-time top scorer at the age of 27.

By the time his side had played their opening two matches, those doubts had been emphatically dispelled with two goals and three assists to his name and although he failed to add to that tally thereafter, he often loomed as his side’s likeliest source of something special and seemed to excel playing as a second striker.

LW: Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)

Granted, it was Kroekrit Thaweekarn, and not Chanathip, that was Thailand’s first-choice left winger throughout the tournament but given the way the latter freely roamed the pitch, is it really possible to pinpoint a fixed position where he was deployed in?

One thing is for certain – whenever he received the ball in the attacking third, he was almost always unstoppable with his phenomenal control, sublime dribbling and blistering pace.

Nonetheless, he also bucked the trend of most silky attackers by regularly looking for his team-mates rather than go it on his own, and was deservedly named the Most Valuable Player of the competition.

ST: Le Cong Vinh (Vietnam)

Before the start of the tournament, there were rumours that coach Toshiya Miura was considering leaving Cong Vinh out of his final 22 and, following a couple of quiet years at club level, it was certainly fair to ponder if we had seen the best of the one-time golden boy of Vietnam.

While his campaign may have begun on the bench, it took him just 13 minutes to make an impact after coming on as a second-half substitute in the 2-2 draw against Indonesia; latching onto a weak clearance header and sending a spectacular first-time volley into the top corner.

Cong Vinh went on to finish the campaign with four goals to his name, including a well-taken brace in the 4-2 loss to Malaysia in the second leg of the semi-finals, and was the most-impressive spearhead in a tournament that really lacked genuine quality from the out-and-out strikers.

Coach: Kiatisuk Senamuang (Thailand)

A gold medal at last year’s Southeast Asian Games and a remarkable fourth-place finish at this year’s Asian Games – was there anything left for Kiatisuk to achieve?

The answer was a resounding yes as the legendary former Thailand striker became the first person to win the Suzuki Cup both as a player and coach, gaining a new legion of fans across the region in the process for his cool demeanour on the touchline, as well as the way he always conducted himself with immense class.

Kiatisuk’s reputation has now been further enhanced by the fact that he is the man that ended the War Elephants’ 12-year wait to reclaim the AFF crown, which was made even more impressive by the fact that the average age of his squad was just 24.

The future is bright for Thailand, and the future is certainly bright for Kiatisuk.

Substitutes

GK: Hassan Sunny (Singapore)

Hassan ultimately did not get much of a chance to prove his worth given Singapore’s disappointing group-stage exit, although he was one of the Lions’ best performers and continues to rival Kawin as the region’s number one goalkeeper.

FB: Zulkifli Syukur (Indonesia)

One of just two Indonesia players to start all three Group A games, Zulkifli – at times – looked like the only player in the side with a remote idea of how to defend, and deserves credit for the way he regularly covered Achmad Jufriyanto and Muhammad Roby.

CB: Le Phuoc Tu (Vietnam)

At 30, Phuoc Tu was the oldest player in the Vietnam side along with Le Tan Tai but more than held his own against younger, faster and fitter opponents, only to be ultimately let down by some shambolic defending from Dinh Tien Thanh, Nguyen Van Bien and goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh in the 4-2 semi-final second-leg loss to the Malaysians.

CM: Charyl Chappuis (Thailand)

The new poster boy of Thai football – Chappuis certainly proved he is capable of delivering the goods after grabbing four goals, although he still has room for improvement given the way he went quiet for significant periods in a couple of matches, as well as his tendency to go for the killer pass too often.

WG: Vu Minh Tuan (Vietnam)

While many expected Nguyen Van Quyet to be Vietnam’s brightest spark before the tournament began, he failed to really fire and instead it was Minh Tuan who proved to be a real threat down the right with his enterprising runs and direct style of play that really caused problems for his opponents, especially against Laos and Philippines.

FW: Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Malaysia)

Although the veteran did not start any of Malaysia’s first four matches, he had such an impact coming off the bench that it was impossible for Dollah to leave him out thereafter, and he went on to become Harimau Malaya’s most-creative outlet in the attacking third in their charge to a runners-up finish.

ST: Khairul Amri (Singapore)

Like Cong Vinh, Amri was one of the few out-and-out strikers that managed to put in a series of consistent displays, even though he only had three games to showcase his abilities. His dominant display as a target-man in Singapore’s 2-1 opening day defeat to Thailand set the standard, and he always gave opposition defenders something to think about.

Thailand down Malaysia to win 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup

Thailand were crowned champions of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup on Saturday after claiming a 4-3 aggregate win over Malaysia in the final.

Despite entering Saturday’s return encounter at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium with a comfortable two-goal cushion from the first leg, it looked as though the Thais had thrown it all away after allowing Malaysia to lead 2-0 at halftime.

First, the hosts were awarded a controversial penalty when Norshahrul Idlan Talaha went down inside the box under Suttinun Phuk-hom’s challenge despite appearing to be little contact between the two.

It was talismanic playmaker Safiq that stepped up to the spot for the Malaysians and, just like he had done on three previous occasions in the tournament, showed no signs of nerves as he sent Kawin Thamsatchanan the wrong way to open the scoring.

The War Elephants did have a number of chances to pull level with Peerapat Notechaiya sending a lovely curling effort back off the woodwork in the 13th minute, before Kroekrit Thaweekarn wasted a trio of chances after finding himself in good positions.

Just before the break, the hosts doubled their lead on the night when Norshahrul did well to hold up play down the right before floating a cross to the back post, where Indra Putra Mahayuddin proceeded to capitalise on a rare moment of indecision by Kawin and nodded the ball into the back of the net.

Remarkably, Harimau Malaya then scored a third – and edged ahead 3-2 on aggregate – two minutes before the hour mark when Safiq Rahim curled a sublime freekick past Kawin’s despairing dive, after Norshahrul had been hauled down outside the box by Suttinun.

It could – and perhaps should – have been 4-0 on the night four minutes later when Amri Yahyah cut the ball back from the right into the path of Safee Sali, but, despite having plenty of the goal to aim for, he somehow sent his shot straight into Indra Putra.

That miss came back to haunt Dollah Salleh’s charges with eight minutes remaining when the Thais themselves were awarded a freekick in a promising situation.

Sarach Yooyen lined up the set-piece and fired a lovely effort towards goal and although his shot drew a fantastic save from Farizal Marlias, Charyl Chappuis reacted quickest to the rebound and slotted into the bottom corner.

With the aggregate scores now level at 3-3, it was the Thais who were headed for the title due to the away goals rule.

But in the 87th minute, they went on to make sure of the triumph after hitting forward on the counter; Adisak Kraisorn laying the ball off to Chanathip Songkrasin, who steadied himself before lashing a rocket of a shot past Farizal into the back of the net.

Moments later, the final whistle went and it was Thailand who were left celebrating their fourth AFF title – equalling Singapore’s record in the process – and their first since 2002.

Malaysia: Farizal Marlias, S. Kunanlan, Shukor Adan, Afif Amiruddin (Muslim Ahmad 69’), Zubir Azmi, Badhri Radzi, Safiq Rahim, Azamuddin Akil (Safee Sali 13’), Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Gary Robbat 78’), Amri Yahyah, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha.

Thailand: Kawin Thamsatchanan, Narubodin Weerawatnodom, Suttinun Phuk-hom, Tanaboon Kesarat, Peerapat Notechaiya, Sarach Yooyen, Charyl Chappuis, Chanathip Songkrasin, Prakit Deeprom (Sarawut Masuk 63’), Kroekrit Thaweekarn (Adul Lahso 89’), Adisak Kraisorn.

Thailand claim AFF final advantage over Malaysia

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.

Dollah not keen on changing Malaysia’s winning formula

Malaysia boss Dollah Salleh is expected to stick with the same starting XI that booked a meeting with Thailand in the final of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Having fallen to a 2-1 defeat at home to Vietnam in the first leg of their semi-final clash, Harimau Malaya’s hopes of advancing looked effectively over but they produced a stunning performance to turn the tie on its head by claiming a 4-2 victory at the My Dinh National Stadium last Thursday.

Dollah deserved plenty of credit for that shock result given he had opted to drop regulars such as Khairul Fahmi and Mahali Jasuli in favour of Farizal Marlias and Indra Putra Mahayuddin.

And the 51-year-old claims it is almost certain he will go with the same line-up on Wednesday when they face the War Elephants in the first leg of the final at the Rajamangala Stadium.

“I think I will field the same team which played in the [second leg of the] semi-final,” he said. “All the players did well and we just need to work on a few things.

“Hopefully we can do the same in Bangkok as we did in Hanoi.

“I did not expect us to play that well so it is a good sign.”

One player that has been crucial for the Malaysians is captain Shukor Adan, who has belied his increasing years with some rock-solid displays in defence.

The 35-year-old has been under an injury cloud as of late, although Dollah is optimistic he will fit to take on Thailand and have a positive impact, along with fellow veteran Indra Putra Mahayuddin.

“He went to hospital this morning [Tuesday] but, according to the team doctor, he should be okay to play,” the Harimau Malaya boss revealed.

“Shukor is especially important – he is our team captain and a very big part of the team.

“He organises well at the back [but] even Indra has done very well so far. I believe these two players are the main men in the team.”

The former Malaysia international did however warn that his charges had to be wary of certain individuals in the War Elephants side, especially after they were beaten 3-2 by the same opponents back in the group stage.

“Chanathip [Songkrasin] plays like Lionel Messi,” Dollah added. “It is not easy to mark him.

“Kroekrit [Thaweekarn] is tricky with his movements and is now probably confident after netting two goals against Philippines in the semi-final.

“Adisak [Kraisorn] does not miss many chances [as] he showed when he netted two goals against us in the group stage.”

Malaysia’s first and only win in the Suzuki Cup so far came back in 2010, when they beat Indonesia 4-2 on aggregate in the final.

Adisak keen to make amends in Suzuki Cup final

Adisak Kraisorn will be looking to repay the faith Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang has shown in him by helping his side beat Malaysia in the final of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup.

After playing a key role in the War Elephants reaching the knockout round by grabbing a crucial brace in their 3-2 win over Malaysia in the group stage, Adisak’s campaign turned sour in the first leg of the semi-finals when he was sent off against Philippines for violent behaviour.

However, although he was suspended for the return encounter, his team-mates coped admirably without him as they claimed a 3-0 win over the Azkals at the Rajamangala Stadium to set up a final encounter with Malaysia, which begins with Wednesday’s first leg in Bangkok.

With Kirati Keawsombat still struggling with injury, it is likely that Kiatisuk will reintroduce the BEC Tero Sasana striker straight back into his starting XI, and the 23-year-old admits he is raring to prove his worth once more.

“I am glad that my team-mates did very well to send our team to the final,” he said, on the tournament’s official website.

“Malaysia are one of the strongest teams in Southeast Asia and I will try to score against them to help our team win the title.”

It appears that Adisak’s rashness in the first game against Philippines has not had any long-term repercussions, with Kiatisuk claiming his young charge had learnt from the incident.

“We wanted to advance to the final to show our support for Adisak,” he had said following their last match.

“Adisak now understands that he made a mistake in the previous match; he wants to return and show the fans what he’s capable of again.

“He has not lost any of his confidence and is training hard in preparation to make an impact in the final.”

One player that has been a constant for the Thais so far is goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan, who has played all but one game so far – a 2-0 win over Myanmar in the final group game when he was rested after his side had already booked their place in the last four.

Having been part of the side that lost in the final to Singapore two years ago, the Muangthong United custodian is determined to go all the way this time round.

“In the last edition of the AFF Suzuki Cup, we came close to the title,” he said.

“To play two finals in a row is a difficult job but I would like to tell the Thailand fans that we are eager to play in the last two games and win the title.

“We will have 50,000 fans cheering us on [at the Rajamangala Stadium on Wednesday] and we are very well prepared.”

Kiatisuk sets sights on ending Thailand’s Suzuki Cup drought

Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang is determined to lead his side to the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup title after they booked their place in the final on Wednesday evening.

Having played out a 0-0 draw in last Saturday’s first leg in Manila, the Thais were in ruthless mood at the Rajamangala Stadium as they took the lead through Chanathip Songkrasin’s sixth-minute opener, before a second-half brace from Kroekrit Thaweekarn sealed a commanding win.

The War Elephants, who will meet either Vietnam or Malaysia in the final, are now just 180 minutes from being crowned Southeast Asian champions for the first time since 2002, and Kiatisuk has stressed his charges now the significance of getting the job done.

“The equation was simple for us today [Wednesday] after we only managed a draw in Philippines,” he said.

“Our target was to come back to Thailand and get the win and we were able to do that, and I want to thank all the fans for coming down to the stadium to support us.

“There are now only two games left against either Vietnam or Malaysia; we remain confident, we will do our best and hopefully we can bring the cup back to Thailand.

“Both Vietnam and Malaysia are very strong and we must respect them, so it doesn’t really matter who we meet in the final.

“The only thing that’s important is to win the final and get the cup.”

Kiatisuk certainly deserved praise for his tactical masterstroke in naming playmaker Chanathip as the focal point in attack after injury and suspension deprived him the services of Kirati Keawsombat and Adisak Kraisorn respectively, even though he had strikers Sompong Soleb and Chainarong Tathong waiting in the wings.

Although he did not confirm that Adisak would be reinstated to his starting XI for the final, he did back the 23-year-old to make amends for the red card he received in the first leg at the weekend.

“We wanted to show our support for Adisak today in the best way possible – by going onto the field and getting the win,” the legendary striker added.

“Adisak has now understood the mistake he made in the previous game and he’s raring to come back and prove his worth to the fans once more.

“He’s not lacking in any confidence, he’s still training with us fully and he’s waiting for the final.”

Dooley proud of Philippines despite AFF semi-final exit

Thomas Dooley insists his Philippines side can “hold their heads high” after being eliminated from the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup with a 3-0 aggregate defeat to Thailand in the semi-finals.

After playing out a 0-0 draw in last Saturday’s first leg in Manila, the Azkals found themselves outclassed at the Rajamangala Stadium on Wednesday as their opponents cruised to victory courtesy of Chanathip Songkrasin’s sixth-minute opener and a second-half double from Kroekrit Thaweekarn.

But having seen his side accomplish a number of historic feats in the past few weeks, Dooley was quick to point out that they can be proud of what they have achieved.

“Overall, I’m happy with the way we played and the results we’ve had in this tournament,” he said.

“We managed to claim an outstanding 4-0 win over Indonesia in the group stage, which was the first time we’ve beaten them in 80 years, and then we were able to draw with Thailand at home.

“We can go back with our heads held high and it was a good tournament where we played nice football.

“The only thing was that we came up against a side that were probably at a different level in every area.”

Having made it to the last four in the past three editions of the Suzuki Cup, Philippines have now firmly established themselves as a genuine force in Southeast Asian football.

Nonetheless, Dooley admits there are still areas where they must improve if they are to take the next step and win the tournament for the first time in their history.

“We already knew that if Thailand didn’t have a good game and we had a great game, then maybe we would stand a chance,” the former United States international added.

“It’s already very difficult to play against a strong Thailand side and then you have those fantastic fans pushing them on. Congratulations to Thailand – they are a great team and deserved to win this semi-final.

“I need to watch the replay of the match but it looked like we made some mistakes that we’ve talked about over and over again.

“It certainly didn’t start well when we gave them a freekick in a dangerous position after just 30 seconds, which was exactly what we didn’t want to do.

“Then, just when we got better in general play in the second half, we had another error in the defensive area, where we lacked urgency when we needed it.

“Thailand are definitely one of the strongest teams I’ve seen but it’s always 50-50 in football, so we’ll have to wait and see if they win the cup.”

Thailand cruise past Azkals into Suzuki Cup final

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.

Kiatisuk wants Thailand to learn from ‘difficult’ Philippines test

Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang is hoping his young side can take lessons from Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Philippines in the first leg of their 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final tie.

The War Elephants, regarded by many as tournament favourites, charged into the last four of the competition after winning all three of their Group B games against Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar.

They were expected to continue their impressive displays at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on Saturday against a Philippines side that had lost all six of their previous meetings in the competition, but were instead given quite a stern test.

The Azkals threatened on numerous occasions and only the heroics of Kawin Thamsatchanan, as well as some resolute defending from the likes of Suttinun Phuk-hom and Peerapat Notechaiaya, prevented the Thais from falling to a shock defeat.

To make matters worse for Kiatisuk, striker Adisak Kraisorn will be suspended for the next game after being shown a straight red following an off-the-ball incident with Amani Aguinaldo, having been introduced as a substitute earlier in Saturday’s match for the injured Kirati Keawsombat.

Admitting their opening encounter with Philippines had been far from straightforward, Kiatisuk spoke of his optimism that his side were able to take out the positives ahead of next Wednesday’s second leg at the Rajamangala Stadium.

“It was not easy for us today [Saturday],” he said. “Philippines are a very strong team and we respect them.

“They worked hard and we also tried, but this is football – you cannot expect to win all the time.

“Today was difficult for us tactically especially when we got the red card. It was just a tackle but the referee thought something else of it and we respect his decision.

“My team is so young – they have to learn many things like playing with ten men.”

With Adisak missing through suspension and Kirati likely to be absent after appearing to pick up a serious hamstring injury, it remains to be seen who the War Elephants boss will turn to in order to fill the void in attack.

The two most straightforward replacements are Bangkok United’s Sompong Soleb and Chainarong Tathong of Army United given they are the other two recognised strikers in his 22-man squad, but neither have exactly fired on all cylinders in the Thai Premier League this season.