By The Nation
Thailand (ranked 116 in the world), have been drawn in a group with arch-rivals Vietnam (96), the United Arab Emirates (67), Malaysia (159) and Indonesia (160).
The “War Elephants” had been the region’s top side until Vietnam dethroned them at last December’s Suzuki Cup and followed up by beating Thailand in the semi-finals of this year’s King’s Cup in Buriram.
“This will be a challenge for Thai footballers and it will be interesting to see if we can again be the No1 team in South East Asia,” said Wittaya, a 61-cap international who in 1979 became the first Thai to play in Europe when he joined Hertha Berlin.
However, he accepted that there would need to be changes in the Thai set-up, much of it down to new national coach Akira Nishino.
“We may have a disadvantage at the moment but football is a game of tactics and it will depend on what the new coach assigns for each player,” he said. “I believe that Thailand can beat every team in this region.”
Wittaya, now 65, added that Thai players needed to believe in themselves, maintain focus during games and have faith in the new coach.
“The biggest concern is adjusting to Nishino’s style,” he said.
“We need to play according to his style, particularly the Japanese style that has not been seen for a long time in Thai football. It requires persevering until you open up the game and adjust your plays correctly.
“I can tell you that no foreign coach has ever been able to clearly achieve that. We have suffered from having a muddled attack and defence and even when we’ve had possession we have shown a lack of precision.”
“So apart from trying to win, we can expect significant improvements in the game like never before.”
Thailand’s first Group G qualifier is against Vietnam on September 5.