The pressure is on after a sub-par performance from Thailand at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium. As the side prepare to host Malaysia for the second leg in Bangkok, Football Tribe Thailand’s Obb Deewajin discusses the five takeaways from the War Elephants first leg match.
Another Slow Start From Thailand
After a sluggish start to the Philipines game, Thai fans would've expected the squad to learn from their mistakes and set the tempo straight away against Malaysia. However, another disappointing start away at a fully packed Bukit Jalil National Stadium suggests otherwise. The "Harimau Malaya" was aggressive from the kick-off and should've been a goal or two ahead by half-time, with winger Safawi Rasid missing a handful on his own. According to coach Milovan Rajevac, "the problem with SEA teams is playing away games. They cannot maintain the same standard as they do back at home, this is something I'm trying to change". If Thailand aspires to join the big boys if Asia, then they definitely need to improve their performance away from home.
Malaysia's 12th Tiger
There's no denying the crowd's influence on Saturday's game. Malaysia head into the semi-final after the failure from two years ago with a young squad. Led a coach who has been given the opportunity to work and mould a side which play attractive football, it's no surprise the fans are enjoying themselves. This positivity really rubs off on the players, which was visible during the game. The 0-0draw puts Tan Cheng Hoe's men in a good position to go for the kill at the Rajamangala Stadium.
Bad Day For Thai Substitutes
Credit to Rajevac for not hesitating and quickly bringing on Pokklaw Anan at half-time as an extra midfielder. The Bangkok United man balanced out the midfield battle between the two teams and had a few decent surges forward. However, the same can't be said for the other 2 substitutes, Pakorn Prempak and Chananan Pombuppha, who had no influence on the tie whatsoever. The former looked lost on the left and took one awful corner kick straight out off play, while the latter only came on with 3 minutes left. Rajevac left most of his substitutions too late and must utilise his players more effectively.
Farizal The "Sweeper-Keeper"
Thailand might have a poor game, but they were still creating chances through sharp counter-attacking situations. Many of Rajevac's tactical tweaks were actually working, to some degree. The side tried to use Sanrawat Dechmitr's through balls for Thitipan Puangchan's charging runs, or Tanaboon Kesarat's long passes over Malaysia's pressing unit, into space for Nurul Sriyankem, exploiting the winger's pace. All these elements worked - so what went wrong? Well, unfortunately, it was cancelled out by Farizal Marlias, who was operating as a sweeper-keeper, rushing out to deal with anything behind the defensive line. Since Tan Cheng Hoe brought him into the squad, Farizal helped his side to two straight clean sheets. His sweeper-keeper skills meant Malaysia can hold a higher-line and press to win the ball back more efficiently.
The War Elephant's Battle Cry
When attacking midfielder Sanrawat Dechmitr was questioned whether he regrets the fact that Thailand didn't score an away goal, he replied: "We had a few chances. Watching us defend can be a bit boring, I'm bored of chasing the ball in defence too. But at least we didn't concede." He was then asked about the second leg, to which he replied: "It's up to us now. It doesn't matter how Malaysia approach [the next game]. Surely we can't be defending again, a win is must at the [Rajamangala]" You know things get serious when your main man is crying out to attack. The return leg in Bangkok will definitely be a fantastic game.