By Lerpong Amsa-ngiam
Thailand’s new acting coach Sirisak Yodyadthai believes he can still turn things around for the war Eelephants, despite the stunning Asian Cup defeat to India on Sunday which prompted the sacking of Milovan Rajevac.
Thailand went into their opening game expecting to pick up three points from what appeared to be their easiest task but they were overshadowed by the more powerful and faster India, who duly beat them for the first time in 32 years.
The disastrous defeat accelerated the decision from Thai FA boss Somyot Poompanmoung to part with Rajevac, even though Thailand still have two group games left, against Bahrain on January 10 and the United Arab Emirates on 14.
“Although the players and the coaching team already performed their best duties in the game with India, I’m confident it was not the playing format that Thai FA and the team supporters desired,” Somyot said of his swift decision to axe the Serb.
Assistant coach Sirisak was therefore appointed as acting coach for the rest of the Cup, with Choketawee Promrut as his assistant.
“Admittedly this is a tough responsibility,” said the 49-year-old former coach of Thai League team Thai Honda. “But on the other side, I still believe in the competence of Thai players, who are second to none.
“If we join hands and work together, I believe we can improve the team results,” added Sirisak, who has worked as assistant to Rajevac since the Serb’s appointment in April 2017.
Rumours swirled before the start of the Cup that players were unhappy with Rajevac and his ultra-cautious tactics were too defensive for players more accustomed to an attacking style.
The team has been far from impressive recently and went into the top regional tournament after failing to defend last month’s AFF Cup, going out on away goals to Malaysia in the semi-finals.
The team’s fortunes sank further when they lost a warm-up game to Oman five days ahead of the game with India.
It was on Sunday, however, that Thailand completely fell apart as a team.
Despite Rajevac’s belated willingness to instruct his players to adopt a more attacking approach, plus the return of highly rated J-League players Teerasil Dangda, Theerathon Bunmathan and Chanathip Songkrasin, Thailand were still thrown off balance by the well-organised Indians.
“After a talk with Choketawee, we [have decided we] must change the whole system: tactics, playing format and our defence,” said Sirisak. “We lost the too many goals in the second half because of a loose focus.
“We have to come up with new approaches that will earn us points. Choketawee and I are confident that the situation of the team will get better in the next two games.”
Sirisak, from Maha Sarakham, used to play as winger for Osotsapa between 1988-1997 before becoming a coach with Thai Honda, and successfully propelling the team into the top-flight league for the first time in 10 years in 2016.
Meanwhile, team captain Teerasil Dangda urged his players to brush aside the agony of defeat and recover as fast as possible for the remaining games.
“It’s difficult to reach the round of 16 now but anything can happen in football. We need to forget the previous match and reunite to give a hard fight from now on,” added the 30-year-old striker, who scored the lone Thai goal against India.
Despite the sacking of Rajevac, fans are continuing to rage on the internet, many demanding the resignation of Football Association of Thailand president Somyot.
Even Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan weighed into the debate, saying yesterday: “As he cannot be fired, he should consider [his position] himself.”