Football Tribe Thailand
The 2020 Champions Cup, the curtain-raiser to the Thai football season, took place on Sunday at the SCG Stadium – League champions Chiangrai United taking on FA Cup winners Port FC. Back in 2019, there were a few similarities between the two sides – both started the season well, experience a dipped halfway through, but still celebrated a silverware at the end of the campaign. However, on the football side of things, both teams are on the opposite end of the spectrum and the difference is even bigger ahead of Thai League 2020.
Port FC, high on their cup success, have spent big in the transfer window. Heberty Fernandes was brought in from rivals Muangthong United to spearhead the Lions attack but, so far, have yet to find his feet.
The Brazilian talisman started as the lone striker in Port FC’s first competitive match, the ACL qualifiers lost to Filipino club Ceres-Negros, but later shifted to the right flank – and have been playing as a wide forward ever since. To be fair to Heberty and Port FC, this is still the early days in their relationship. Things could work out excellently between them – Heberty bagging tons of goals and assists, Port lifting more trophies, etc. Nevertheless, you can’t deny the fact that Heberty’s arrival has forced a change in Port FC’s structure, especially going forward, and the team struggling to keep up with the changes.
On Sunday, winger Pakorn Prempak vacated his preferred right-wing position to make way for Heberty. Port’s top scorer in 2019, Sergio Suarez, dropped into the no.10 role to accommodate Adisak Kraisorn – a more traditional striker brought in for his holdup play, we suspect, to get the best out Heberty. Unfortunately, things just didn’t click between the font-4 but that’s not really a surprise considering the team had abandoned their favored 4-3-3 for the 4-2-3-1.
Chiangrai United, on the other hand, chose to walk down the path of continuity. The 3-5-2 formation is still there and all new signings were generally to strengthen the squad depth. Mailson’s disappointing pre-season form has raised a few eyebrows and questions are being asked whether this new Brazilian forward can replace William Henrique whose attacking contribution was instrumental to Chiangrai’s 2019 triumph.
In fact, William’s replacement is not someone new, but 23-year-old Chaiyawat Buran, who had been with the club since 2017. Chiangrai XI were all last season’s league winners and they had no trouble coping with Port FC’s disjointed XI.
Pakorn offered little help defensively and his lack of effort was heavily exploited by the Beetles on the counter. Chiangrai’s right-sided center-back, Shinnaphat Leeaoh, was free to venture forward while right-wingback, Chotipat Poomkaew, also reached the bylines a handful of times.
Trying to play out from the back, and chased down by the Chiangrai front-2 and both wingbacks, left-back Martin Steuble played a poor back-pass that nearly cost Port FC a goal. Lucky, Bill Rosimar’s place shot bounced off the fortunate side of the post.
In the 35th minute, Chiangrai created another decent chance, once again, exploiting Port FC’s poor defensive cover down the flanks. Heberty was slow too to close down Lee Yong Rae, and with time and space, the former South Korean international was able to launch a diagonal ball that found its way across the field to Chotipat but Steuble’s last-second block was just about enough to deflect the shot away. Again, it was too easy for the Chiangrai right-wingback to make his way into the penalty area. Pakorn should’ve followed his man but in typical Pakorn fashion, he was nowhere to be seen.
One would expect head coach Choketawee Promrut to sort the issue out during half time – but that didn’t happen and Chiangrai scored the opening goal from almost exactly the same pattern of play. This time it was Bill Rosimar who picked out Chotipat’s run with a diagonal ball from the left. None of the Port’s players even made an effort to retreat into their box, Lee Yong Rae burst forward alone, and it was suddenly three orange against two blues. A simple cross and point-blank header put Chiangrai ahead.
Chaiyawat Buran was tireless in his pressing and fearless when taking on the opposition. The second-striker then double Chiangrai’s lead 4 minutes later from within the 6-yard box thanks to Bill Rosimar’s wonderful solo effort for the assist.
Chasing the game, Bodin Phala came on at left-wing and was probably one of his team’s liveliest players that evening. The Thai international’s pace and skills to win 1v1 duels forced Chiangrai’s defender and wingback backward and created Port’s best chance for an equalizer.
Bodin skipped past Shinnaphat with ease, drilled a low cross across goal which found Tanasith Siripala but goalkeeper Apirak Woravong did brilliantly to recover and tip the shot above the crossbar.
The match ended 2-0 with Chiangrai in control most of the game and truly deserve winners. Having Lee Yong Rae back and fully fit again is like a new signing. A year of top-flight football on-loan has done wonders for academy graduate Chotipat Poomkeaw who return as a far more well-rounded player. Bill Rosimar, usually someone with a slow start to the season, looks much fitter than he ever was compared to previous years.
Port FC may have the fancier XI but Chiangrai, through consistency, have perfected their way of winning as evidence their records of five trophies in three years. So don’t be amazed to see Chaiyawat, predominantly a winger throughout his career, so at home playing as a second-striker, copying William Henrique’s deadly partnership with Bill Rosimar that won them so much.
Chaiyawat and the club knew each other in and out, hence why the adjustment went by so seamlessly. Port FC, on the other, still struggled to paired Elias Dolah with David Rochela, integrate Heberty or consistently get the best out of Sergio Suarez.
Port FC and Chiangrai United are both good teams, and they’ll be racing for the titles in 2020. Yet, if there is a lesson to be learned from the Champions Cup, it’s that things are looking promising for Chiangrai while Port supporters may have to be patient and prepare themselves for a rocky start to the season as Choketawee does his best to gel the squad together.