Asia AFC Asian Cup

Ekanit Panya SLAMMED by Fans for Bailing from National Team Duty

Thailand international attacking midfielder Ekanit Panya has drawn sharp criticism from fans following his decision to withdraw from the Changsuek‘s 2023 AFC Asian Cup squad in order to focus for his pre-season preparations with J.League 1 side Urawa Red Diamonds.

Sunday’s announcement regarding Panya’s withdrawal from the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) was coupled with the announcement that his former Muangthong United teammate Picha Autra will be replacing him in Masatada Ishii’s squad for the upcoming Asian Cup in Qatar.

“Ekanit reasoned that he wanted to join the pre-season of Urawa Reds for the 2024 J1 League,” said a statement issued by FAT, “This club have just replaced coach Maciej Skorza with Per-Mathias Hogmo, so he wants to impress the new coach.”

At the age of 25, Panya was part of the Thailand squad that emerged victorious in the 2022 AFF Cup. In the previous season, he moved to Urawa Reds on loan from Muangthong United, participating in 11 games, primarily as a substitute, and managing to score one goal.

However, his prospects of securing a starting position for Thailand in this year’s Asian Cup are minimal due to tough competition with other players such as Supachok Sarachat and Worachit Kanitsribampen. This is the primary factor influencing his decision to withdraw from the tournament.

Panya’s decision in withdrawing from the Asian Cup squad was met with sheer outrage by the fans, who wrote on the FAT’s social media channels that he “didn’t care about the national team and cares more about his club” and that he “is better off away from the national team setup.”

As reported by the Thai newspaper Khao Sod, Masatada found himself compelled to call up Picha Autra and he did not convince Panya to change his decision.

According to Thai Post, Panya, expressing concerns over potentially losing his position in the club under a new coach, cited the pre-season as a crucial period for coaches to assess and evaluate players.

Panya made history as the first Southeast Asian player to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup after he was named in the Urawa squad for the 2023 edition. Despite this milestone, he faced the disappointment of not getting a single minute of playtime in all three games of the tournament, which saw Urawa beat Mexico’s Club Leon before losing to England’s Manchester City and Egypt’s Al-Ahly. The upcoming 2024 J1 League season, scheduled from February 23rd  to December 8th, holds Urawa Reds as strong title contenders.

However, complications arise as the 2024 Asian Cup kicks off on January 12th , placing Panya’s Thailand in Group F alongside Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan, and Oman. With the group stage concluding on January 25th, the potential participation of Panya in the Asian Cup implies his absence during the initial weeks of training under the new Urawa head coach Hogmo. This scenario adds an element of uncertainty to Panya’s continued tenure with Urawa and raises questions about the impact on team dynamics in the approaching season.