Thailand sound World Cup warning to Socceroos by winning King's Cup

Thailand sound World Cup warning to Socceroos by winning King's Cup
From ESPN - July 16, 2017

Two clean sheets helped steer Thailand to King's Cup victory on Sunday night, highlighting a new-found defensive strength that will give Australia food for thought ahead of their vital World Cup qualifier in Melbourne in September.

Goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan was the hero as the Thais defended their title in the four-team invitational tournament with a shoot out victory over Belarus after a goalless draw at Rajamangala Stadium. Kawin saved twice to seal a 5-4 win on penalties after a 3-0 victory in the semifinal against North Korea on Friday.

The Socceroos have already dropped two points to the Thais in Group B, having drawn 2-2 in Bangkok last November. Former head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang quit the Thai national team after heavy defeats to Saudi Arabia and Japan in March demonstrated their defensive weaknesses.

But under new head coach Milovan Rajevac, the War Elephants have conceded just once in three games -- an added-time equaliser by the United Arab Emirates in a World Cup qualifier on June 13.

When the Serbian took over from Kiatisuk, he immediately identified fixing the leaky defence as a priority. And he will be pleased with early progress even if under-strength King's Cup opponents North Korea and Belarus did not offer as stiff a test as they will face against Tom Rogic and Co. in Melbourne.

Nevertheless, Rajevac's focus on keeping things tighter at the back may make life harder for Ange Postecoglou's side in a game they will have to win to have a chance of automatic qualification for Russia 2018.

The draw by U.A.E. in Bangkok last month all but killed off their hopes of qualification. The Thais may have nothing but pride to play for, but they will be determined to add to the total of two points achieved in a disappointing campaign.

While their opponents may not have had their strongest teams, the Thais were also without some key players. Striker Teerasil Dangda and right-back Tristan Do both pulled out with injury, while playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin was excused, as he adapts to life with J.League club Consadole Sapporo.

Despite being hosts, Rajevac started with a conservative lineup in the final. Adisak Kraisorn was in the lone striker role in front of a five-man midfield.

Theerathon Bunmathan was pushed into a more advanced position on the left, freeing him up from the defensive duties of a full-back.


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