Thailand – For a team that won the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship five times and made the final eight times, any finish outside the top two will be regarded as a failure by Thailand.
After being knocked out in the semi-finals in the last edition in 2018, the War Elephants are bringing their big guns – including overseas-based players – to Singapore this year to wrest back the crown.
They include experienced goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan (from Belgium’s OH Leuven), defenders Jonathan Khemdee (Denmark’s Odense BK) and Theerathon Bunmathan (Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos), influential playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin (Japan‘s Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo) and midfielder Thanawat Suengchitthawon (England’s Leicester City).
This is a major difference from the 2018 squad that comprised all-local-based players, and former Thailand and Laos coach Steve Darby felt the quintet would provide a massive boost.
The 66-year-old Englishman said: “Their overseas experience has not only made them better players but also toughened them up. They are essential for Thailand (to do well at the AFF Suzuki Cup).”
1️⃣ Day to go, only 1️⃣ team can be the Kings of ASEAN 🌏— AFF Suzuki Cup (@affsuzukicup) December 4, 2021
🏆 Who will lift the trophy at the end of #AFFSuzukiCup2020?#AFFSuzukiCup2020 | #RivalriesNeverDie pic.twitter.com/l8g4J6d5nO
However, Thailand did not fare well in the second round of the World Cup qualifiers. They were eliminated after finishing behind the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Malaysia, and were ahead of only Indonesia.
This led to the sacking of Japanese coach Akira Nishino, as their SEA Games team also failed to make it past the group stage in 2019, when Vietnam won their first title.
The new man at the helm is Alexandre Polking, 45, who became the head coach of a national team for the first time in September.
Based on his time with Bangkok United in the Thai top tier from 2014 to 2020, the German tactician favours a possession-heavy, attacking style with quick and technical players. Despite the team having to adapt to the new coach in a short time frame, Darby felt Polking’s experience as a former Thailand assistant coach and his time in the Thai league stands him in good stead.