AFC Champions League

Thai Champions Fail to Keep Up With Average Melbourne Victory

Obb Deewajin

Football Tribe Thailand


Chiangrai United’s AFC Champions League debut ended in disappointment by the hands of a rather ordinary Melbourne Victory performance. The A-League outfit took the lead via Ola Toivonen penalty and in truth should have done better with the chances they created.

The visitor lined up in a 3-5-2 formation and pressed quite aggressively against Victory’s 3-4-3. Attacking midfielder Siwakorn Tiatrakul joined Bill Rosimar and Chaiyawat Buran in closing down the home side’s back-3. On one occasion, Siwakorn managed to steal the ball off Adama Traoré, found Chaiyawat to the left of the box, but defender Storm Roux read the situation well and quick enough to put a foot in.

Despite being able to restrict Victory’s intention to play out from the back in the opening period, Chiangrai slowly lost their intensity and got bypassed as Victory found their tempo. 

In possession, left-wingback Adama Traoré would surge forward, taking his Chiangrai counterpart, Chotipat Poomkeaw, along with him, thus opening space on the left fank. This huge gap caused Siwakorn to hesitate whether to pressure on the left-sided center-back, Giancarlo Gallifuoco, and ignore the opening behind or trackback to fend off that left channel. 

Unfortunately, the Chiangrai bench didn’t react fast enough and Ola Toivonen was allowed to drop deep and pick up possession with ease. In fact, Traoré to Toivonen was the second-highest pass combination in the game (11). Clear evidence of Victory’s dominance down that flank.

Having Siwakorn pressing high up the pitch also left Chiangrai’s central midfield pairing, Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul, and Lee Yong-Rae, stranded. Toivonen coming deep to link up play also meant the home team now outnumbers Chiangrai’s midfield battled 3-to-2. 

Victory’s first real chance actually came when midfielder Anthony Lesiotis won a header against Phitiwat that set off a 3 versus 3 situation against the Chiangrai center-backs. Toivonen’s curling shot, following a neat combination play with Elvis Kamsoba and Andrew Nabbout, was only denied by Apirak Worawong’s acrobatic save. 

Moments later, Toivonen was brought down by a needless pull from Tanasak Srisai. Again, it began with Traoré advancing from the left before Nabbout put in an inswinging cross. The former-Swedish international picked himself up and converted the spot-kick with an accurate strike.

On the opposite flank, right-winger, Kamsoba, nearly doubled the lead after an excellent run – gliding past 2 players only for Nabbout to fire the cutback wide off target. 

Siwakorn was Chiangrai’s liveliest player in the first half, causing a threat with his deadly set-piece deliveries and attempts at goal. 

Carlos Perez Salvachua’s men came close yet again, in the 57th minute, when Nabbout rattled the crossbar with a header from a corner kick. 

Substitute, Marco Rojas, came on and added quite a spark to the game – tearing his way past the Chiangrai defence but Kamsoba somehow missed from 6 yards out. The former-Heerenveen winger broke forward in extra-time, his cross found Sarawut Inpan with a poor clearance header, but Toivonen scuffed the shot.

Melbourne Victory weren’t on their A-game, but sadly for Thai fans that was enough to kill off the Thai League champions. Both sides were tactically equal – but it was that tiny bit of individual quality and experience on the continental stage that gave Victory the edge.