Friday, 21 December 2012

Thais ready to lay ghosts of past tournaments

Thailand will have to act as ghostbusters if they are to overcome Singapore and win the AFF Suzuki Cup for a record fourth time at Bangkok’s Supachalasai Stadium on Saturday.
The War Elephants were badly wounded by the Lions in the first leg of the final going down 3-1 with the deepest bites being inflicted by goalscorers Fahrudin Mustafic, who grabbed the opener from the penalty spot, Khairul Amri and Baihakki Khaizan.
Defensive midfielder Adul Lahso grabbed the away goal that could prove crucial with a 2-0 victory in the return leg being enough to end Thailand's decade-long title drought.
For that to happen, they will have to exorcise the ghosts of tournaments past.
Since the inaugural Asean Football Championship in 1996, the team that has scored the first goal in the finals has always gone on to lift the trophy.
One of those sides was Singapore, who beat Thailand 2-1 in the first leg in 2007 before taking their third title with a 1-1 draw at the Supachalasai Stadium, Amri scoring the deciding goal in the 81st minute.
Thailand suffered the exact same fate in 2008 going down 2-1 in the first leg in Bangkok and drawing 1-1 in the return, the celebrated Le Cong Vinh delivering the coup de grace with an injury-time header.
While aware of the history, Thailand coach Winfried Schafer can fall back on personal milestones to inspire his side.
When he coached Karlsruhe in 1993, the German side lost 3-1 away to Spanish giants Valencia in the UEFA Cup round of 32 before bouncing back in style on home turf with a 7-0 victory.
“At the time, Valencia was one of the best teams in Spain,” said Schafer. “I have told the team the story, and I hope it will inspire them.”
Schafer said that Singapore fully deserved their 3-1 victory over Thailand at the Jalan Besar Stadium but he was confident his team would come good in the return leg.

Will it be deja vu for Schafer?

Thailand coach Winfried Schafer, whose side were beaten 3-1 by Singapore in the AFF Suzuki Cup final first leg on Wednesday, has faced a two-goal deficit going into a return leg before and come out smiling. 

When Schafer coached Karlsruhe in 1993, the German side lost 3-1 away to Spanish giants Valencia in the UEFA Cup round of 32.

Back on home soil, the tie took on a completely different perspective with striker Edgar Schmitt scoring four goals as Karlsruhe won 7-0 to progress 8-3 on aggregate.

The canny Schafer, whose coaching credentials also include steering Cameroon to victory in the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations, will be hoping that goal machine Teerasil Dangda can do a Schmitt and add to his tournament high tally of five against Singapore at the sold-out Supachalasai Stadium on Saturday.

“It is important now that the players are focussed,” Schafer said after the loss to Singapore. “We still have a second match in Bangkok and maybe we can change the match. The players can get back up and I have confidence that we can change things in the second leg.”

Finalists rise up world rankings

AFF Suzuki Cup finalists Thailand and Singapore have both jumped up the FIFA World Ranking after their performances in the region’s leading tournament. 

Thailand improved 16 places to 136th spot with Singapore climbing nine spots to 154th in the latest ranking.

In all, Thailand received 233 points for their AFF Suzuki Cup build up victories over Malaysia, Bhutan and Bangladesh, their Group A wins over the Philippines, Myanmar and Vietnam and the 1-1 semi-final draw and subsequent 2-0 triumph over defending champions Malaysia.

Singapore were credited with 146 points for their friendly win over Pakistan, Group B victories over Malaysia and Laos and the 0-0 draw and 1-0 win over the Philippines in the semi-finals.

The Lions 3-1 triumph over Thailand in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final on Wednesday came too late to be included in this month’s FIFA World Ranking which were issued on December 19.

Beaten semi-finalists the Philippines dropped four spots to 147th though Malaysia improved five spots to 158th.

Despite failing to qualify for the knock-out stages of the AFF Suzuki Cup, Vietnam remain the top-ranked team in the Asean region in 131st spot, a rise of seven places from last month.

Avramovic wants no let-up by Lions

Bangkok – Singapore may be in a strong position to win the AFF Suzuki Cup final for a record fourth time after building a two-goal advantage against Thailand but coach Radojko Avramovic has insisted that there will be no let-up by his players in the second leg in Bangkok on Saturday.

The Lions seized the initiative at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday when Baihakki Khaizan’s stoppage-time strike gave them a 3-1 lead against the previously unbeaten Thais.

No team has lost from that sort of position in previous Asean Football Championship finals and Avramovic, who also led Singapore to victory in 2004 and 2007, is determined to see his side close out the deal once again at the Supachalasai Stadium.

“It was our wish to be here in the final and now this is a game in which we hope to achieve our target and our wishes,” said the Serbian, who has been at the helm for the Lions since 2003.

“We have a small advantage at the moment but this is a new game. It’s normal that Thailand will try to do everything to win this game but at the same time, we will try to keep the result as it is at the moment so at the end, we can celebrate.”

Despite his team’s two-goal cushion, Avramovic said that his players will not be looking to try to sit back and defend their lead for 90 minutes.

“In every game in this competition, we have been trying to score goals,” he said. “I don’t think that for any result, you can sit back and think it is finished. If you don’t try to score goals, in the end you will be punished.

“If we have opportunities to try to score, we will try to score. But it will also be important that we don’t give any chances to our opponents to score.”
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