BANGKOK (Reuters) – Two goals by Kroekrit Thaweekarn and another by Chanathip Songkrasin sent three-time champions Thailand through to another AFF Suzuki Cup final on Wednesday after the hosts outclassed the Philippines 3-0 on aggregate.
Talented playmaker Chanathip, dubbed “Messi Jay” because he dribbles like Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, chested the ball down and slotted home after six minutes to set the Thais on their way in the second leg at the Rajamangala Stadium.
Thailand, aiming to secure their first title in the biennial Southeast Asian Championship since 2002, then dominated the match, toying with opponents who were chasing shadows.
The Thais must now wait to see who they will play in the two-legged final, with Vietnam taking a 2-1 lead over Malaysia into Thursday’s second leg in Hanoi.
“We do not care whether we face Vietnam or Malaysia in the finals. We are ready to face anyone,” Thai coach Kiatisuk Senamuang, known as “Zico”, told reporters.
“Our target is to win the Suzuki Cup and also in the two or three years to come.”
The Azkals had caused the Thais trouble in Saturday’s goalless first leg in Manila and were optimistic of making a debut final appearance.
They had been buoyed by the absence of injured Thai striker Kirati Keawsombut and suspended deputy Adisak Kraisorn but Kroekrit and Chanathip proved too strong. The visitors opted to attack more at the start of the second half as they eyed an equaliser that would have sent them through on away goals but they pushed too many men forward.
A lofted pass by Charyl Chappuis sent Kroekrit in behind the Filipino right back and the midfielder slotted home just before the hour mark to make the game safe.
Thailand had chances to add to their tally in the closing stages as the Azkals flagged, with the visitors reduced to 10 men for the final eight minutes after midfielder Martin Steuble got a second yellow card for clattering into Prakit Deeporm.
Kroekrit took advantage of the space to cut inside on to his right foot and clip home a third in the 85th minute.