By Kitinan Sanguansak
Thailand's chances of securing a passage into the final World Cup qualifying round are no longer in their hands after a thumping 3-0 defeat in Saudi Arabia on Friday.
Heading into the game at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, two points above their rivals, the Thais found themselves one place and a point behind after the Saudis’ first victory of the campaign leapfrogged them into the runners-up spot with five points from four matches.
Even though the Thais frustrated the hosts with their resolute defending in the first half, their resistance crumbled after the interval. Naif Hazazi put the three-time Asian Cup champions ahead just before the hour mark, heading a floated delivery from the edge of the box.
With the Thai defence all over the place, the Saudis then managed to double their advantage with Ahmed al-Fraidi scoring a superb individual goal in the 80th minute. The midfielder made a mazy run which left defenders on trail before firing home barely six yards out.
Saudi captain Mohammad Noor, who was a real handful for the Thai defence, made sure of the win by converting a late penalty. The evening got even worse for the Thais when Buriram PEA left-back Theerathon Bunmathan was sent off for his part in a bust-up at the closing stages.
Theerathon’s red card raised questions over the quality of refereeing as tempers flared moments after the referee let a two-foot lunge by substitute Nawaf Shaker, which left a Thai defender writhing in agony, go unpunished.
Despite controversial incidents, the Thais would not have any complaints with the result as the Saudis gradually wore them down before running out as deserved winners.
Thailand’s chances of qualification became even more complicated when underdogs Oman upset leaders Australia 1-0 in another group match. The result helped Oman draw level on four points with Thailand but stayed at the bottom due to inferior goal difference.
With their backs against the wall, the Thais now need to win their remaining two matches and hope that the other results would go their way if they are to clinch one of two qualification spots in the group. That begins with a home fixture against Australia on Tuesday at Supachalasai Stadium.