BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand assistant coach Choktawee Promrat is sure the speedy play of his back-up forwards and the flair of “Messi Jay” will see them past the Philippines on Wednesday and into another AFF Suzuki Cup final.
The tournament favourites were pushed hard during the first leg in Manila on Saturday which finished goalless after Adisak Kraisorn was sent off for an off-the-ball clash and fellow striker Kirati Keawsombut departed on a stretcher.
The two will be missing at the Rajamangala Stadium but Choktawee backed talented playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin, dubbed “Messi Jay” by Thai fans, to fill the void, with Sompong Soleb and Chainarong Tathong also pushing for a start.
“Chanatip has grown and become stronger. He provides the best link-up play offensively,” Choktawee told reporters on Tuesday of the 21-year-old named after Barcelona and Argentine great Lionel Messi.
“They will set up very defensively. Our challenge will be to break their defence but it shouldn’t be a problem for our quick strikers.”
While three-time champions Thailand are aiming for a fourth final appearance in the last five editions of the biennial Southeast Asian championships, the Philippines are aiming for a first. Once the whipping boys of the tournament, they are competing in a third consecutive semi-final and caused the Thais plenty of problems in the first leg.
‘Azkals’ coach Tom Dooley said he hoped a positive result for his side could offer some joy to Filipinos at home who have been hit by Typhoon Hagupit over the weekend, which killed 27 people and left thousands homeless. “Our home result was perfect for us but we are still the underdogs in this game. We are always worried about the speed they have offensively,” the American-German coach said.