Football Tribe SEA Editor
Thailand were eliminated from the AFC U23 Championships on home turf after VAR overturned the referee’s decision and awarded Saudi Arabia a penalty in the 78th minute. Striker Abdullah Al-Hamdan netted the side’s only goal and continued their hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The hosts began the game brightly and were determined to show that they were not scared of their West Asian opponents. An excellent effort from Suphanat Mueanta almost found the net after just five minutes, but came off the upright and left the hosts bitterly disappointed.
While aiming to push into and contain Saudi Arabia in midfield, the hosts were left exposed at the back on multiple occasions. Some may argue that Thailand were lucky to go into the half-time break level, as a fair set of saves, last-second interventions and a particularly glaring miss from Al-Hamdan saw the two sides remain level.
Thailand were clearly outdoing the visitors’ expectations, who were quick to call on danger man Abdulrahman Ghareeb early in the second half.
Saudi Arabia would finally have their break when they picked off Thailand in the early stages of a counter-attack, allowing them to run at an exposed defense. Al-Hamdan was adjudged to have been fouled by Sorawit Panthong for shirt pulling which clearly was clearly initiated outside the area, which was then followed by what appeared to be a clean tackle inside the box.
However, after a consultation with VAR, the referee changed his decision and awarded Saudi Arabia a penalty instead of a close-range free-kick, sparking outrage among the fans. It isn’t clear whether the call was for the second tackle, or the shirt-pulling infringement which continued into the box, both of which seem particularly harsh grounds on which to swing the momentum of the game.
Al-Hamdan made no mistake in converting the penalty which he won, adding a goal to cap off an excellent all-round performance, where he was instrumental in hassling the Thai defense for the entire match.
Nishino reacted quickly, calling upon the fresh legs of Jaroensak Wongkorn and Ben Davis to attempt to reverse the situation and get his side back in the game. The side sprang into life and was able to make a couple of attempts at the Saudi goal, but despite the six minutes of added time, Thailand were ultimately unable to find the back of the net and exited the tournament at the quarter-final stage.
Regardless of the defeat and admittedly disappointing circumstances, the War Elephants can take pride in their efforts of getting out of the group stage and making a strong impression against one of the strongest sides in Asia.
For Saudi Arabia, this result brings them one step closer to qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, a tournament where they will desperately want to be on the roster exclusive to only the four best sides on the continent.