TUSKLESS ELE­PHANTS

Bangkok Post - - FRONT PAGE - HANIF HAS­SAN

Time for Thai­land to look for new coach

AShake­spearean com­edy is ti­tled All’s Well

That Ends Well, but as far as the Thais’ bid to com­plete a hat-trick of AFF Suzuki Cup ti­tles was con­cerned it nei­ther ended well nor any­thing seemed to be well within the team.

Be­sides, the way Thai­land ex­ited the South­east Asian foot­ball cham­pi­onship stage on Wed­nes­day night looked more like a tragedy than any­thing else.

A 2-2 draw at Ra­ja­man­gala Na­tional Sta­dium, which fol­lowed a goal­less stale­mate in front of an 80,000-plus crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil sta­dium last Satur­day, proved enough to give Malaysia a de­serv­ing place in the fi­nal of the Asean Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion-sanc­tioned event.

The so­cial me­dia went into the over­drive soon af­ter the match with the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion of Thai­land (FAT) pres­i­dent Pol Gen Somyot Poom­pun­muang, na­tional team coach Milo­van Ra­je­vac and striker Adisak Kraisorn in the crosshairs of their guns.

The heart­break the Thai foot­ball fans ex­pe­ri­enced in the wake of the re­sult cul­mi­nated in calls for the heads of Somyot and Ra­je­vac, while the re­ac­tion to Adisak’s last-minute penalty miss was mostly mixed.

Let’s give the three tar­gets of pub­lic scorn a fair trial first.

Somyot, to start with, has noth­ing to do with how the na­tional team per­forms in any given game, be­cause the team se­lec­tion and match tac­tics are the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the coach.

Some may go to the ex­tent of blam­ing Somyot for hir­ing Ra­je­vac as the coach, but the vet­eran Ser­bian man­ager did look good on pa­per, hav­ing all the right cre­den­tials and, above all, he didn’t cost much.

Adisak, cur­rently the high­est scorer of the 2018 edi­tion of the bi­en­nial tour­na­ment, ten­dered an emo­tional apol­ogy to the fans for let­ting them down.

“I made a mis­take I shouldn’t have. I thought too much. This is a les­son learned. I’m truly sorry for the mis­take and will keep fight­ing.”

Adisak, com­pared to the other members of the Thai squad, did per­form at a high level and he isn’t the only one to have committed the car­di­nal sin of go­ing way­ward from just 12 yards away — there is a long list of foot­ball greats who have found the short dis­tance to a be treach­er­ous trek, some of them on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions.

In fact, the writ­ing had been on the wall in a bold enough font af­ter Thai­land’s pro­saic show at Bukit Jalil sta­dium, where the War Ele­phants be­haved more like a Win­nie the Pooh as the Malayan Tigers ma­rauded the pitch for over 90 min­utes.

It was af­ter this match that the first signs that all isn’t well in the Thai camp emerged for the first time through an un­guarded com­ment to the Thai me­dia by the team’s star play­maker San­rawat Detch­mitr.

San­rawat de­scribed Thai­land’s per­for­mance in the first leg of the semi-fi­nal as “dis­ap­point­ing” and “bor­ing”.

San­rawat said: “We are dis­ap­pointed that we couldn’t score a goal, but we didn’t cre­ate many chances as well.

“It was re­ally bor­ing that we played more de­fence than of­fence. I un­der­stand that ev­ery player, in­clud­ing my­self, is bored with this de­fen­sive style but it is an ad­van­tage now that we did not con­cede a goal.”

The pub­lic dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Ra­je­vac’s overly de­fen­sive ap­proach is jus­ti­fied.

The Serb is an ex­pe­ri­enced coach who took Ghana to the 2010 World Cup quar­ter-fi­nals, but his tac­tics for the first leg, dur­ing which the Thai team failed to hit a sin­gle shot to­wards the Malaysian goal, pro­vided the only source of hu­mour in the drama-filled bat­tle.

Be­fore the first leg, he seemed more con­cerned about con­ced­ing a goal than scor­ing a pre­cious away goal. The Thais were mostly found pinned to their own half as the Malaysians kept launch­ing waves of cap­ti­vat­ing moves.

The goal­less draw did give Thai­land the up­per hand ahead of sec­ond leg at home and the Thais, in their goal­keeper Chatchai Butr­prom’s words, did prom­ise to give Malaysia a night­mare on Wed­nes­day night.

How­ever, when the time came the old Ra­je­vac re­coiled into his de­fen­sive shell once again and the out­come was a place for Malaysia in the Suzuki Cup fi­nal against Viet­nam.

As the pub­lic pres­sure mounted, Somyot came out in the de­fence of Ra­je­vac by point­ing out that: “The Thai na­tional team and the staff coaches can­not be eval­u­ated on the ba­sis of the Suzuki Cup be­cause this was not our full squad. We were with­out our four for­eign-based play­ers [Chanathip Songkrasin, Teerasil Dangda, Theerathon Bun­mathan and Kawin Tham­satchanan].”

He also gave Ra­je­vac some breath­ing space, say­ing the FAT will eval­u­ate the per­for­mance of the team and Ra­je­vac af­ter the AFC Asian Cup, which will take place from Jan 5 to Feb 1.

Thai­land have been drawn in Group A with In­dia, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emi­rates for the Asian event and will play their first game with In­dia on Jan 6.

It is un­der­stand­able that this is not the right time to make any dras­tic changes to the team and its man­age­ment as any other course would only jeop­ar­dise the Thais’ chances of far­ing well at the Asian Cup.

With Chanathip, Teerasil and rock-solid Kawin back, Thai­land can look for­ward to some im­proved per­for­mances in the UAE next month, which may

make Ra­je­vac look a bit bet­ter, but the grow­ing dis­con­tent of play­ers and fans with the Ser­bian coach’s de­fence-first pol­icy is un­likely to go away any­time soon.

Af­ter more than a year in the job, it is pretty clear

that Ra­je­vac wants to go east while ev­ery­one else wants to head west, so the Serb can’t be a long-term choice to lead the Thai na­tional team.

The FAT would do well to ig­nore calls for a Thai coach as there aren’t any around who, at this mo­ment, have what it takes to shep­herd the Thai foot­ball in the right di­rec­tion.

How­ever, it is also time that Somyot and Co started sound­ing out other op­tions or else Thai foot­ball could turn into hu­mor­ous play that might not end well.

Kawin Tham­satchanan, No.1, Chanathip Songkrasin, No.18, Teerasil Dangda, No.10, and Theerathon Bun­mathan, back row third left, are likely to re­turn to the Thai team for the Asian Cup.

Thai­land for­ward Adisak Kraisorn, No.9, misses from the spot in the dy­ing mo­ments against Malaysia at Ra­ja­man­gala Na­tional Sta­dium. Thai­land’s San­rawat Dech­mitr, right, in ac­tion against Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil sta­dium.

Thai FA boss Somyot Poom­pun­muang, front, and na­tional team coach Milo­van Ra­je­vac.

Malaysia play­ers cel­e­brate af­ter reach­ing the 2018 Suzuki Cup fi­nal.

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