Confident Thailand target sixth title

From left, Indonesia forward Egy Maulana and coach Shin Tae-Young pose with Thailand boss Mano Polking and midfielder Sarach Yooyen during a press conference in Singapore on Tuesday.

Thailand are looking forward to winning a record-extending sixth AFF Suzuki Cup crown as they face Indonesia in the first leg of the title showdown tonight.

The second leg will be on Saturday with both matches taking place at Singapore’s National Stadium.

While Thailand have won the title five times, the Indonesians are chasing their first crown, having lost in the final on five occasions.

Thailand goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom is out of the tournament due to an injury while left-back Theerathon Bunmathan is suspended for the first leg after receiving two yellow cards.

But coach Mano Polking is confident that the War Elephants have enough quality depth to cover the absentees.

“Unfortunately, Chatchai is out of the tournament with his ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] and this is sad news for us. Theerathon is one of our most experienced players and he is having a fantastic tournament but we have other players of good quality who have been waiting for their chances,” said the Brazilian, who is in his first tournament in charge of Thailand.

“We are preparing for a 180-minute clash and we have to prepare for all different situations. Of course, we know about Indonesia’s record but we also want to win another title for Thailand and that’s what we are preparing for.

“We must not think about past records because both teams deserve to come to this point. We will do our best to become champions.

“It is too early to talk about us being Asean number one. We still have two difficult games.”

Thailand midfielder Sarach Yooyen said although Thailand as a team are more experienced than Indonesia, the final won’t be easy.

“Indonesia have done well in this tournament. The title may go to the team which makes fewer mistakes,” he said.

Thailand team manager Nualphan Lamsam watches her players train.

25 years of pain

The Indonesians are aiming to end 25 years of hurt and finally erase those memories of consistently falling at the final stage with coach Shin Tae-Young knowing what needs to be done.

“Of course, I want to be champion but lifting the trophy doesn’t happen just because you want it to. Being champion comes your way when you do your best in every match,” said the South Korean.

“As a coach I’ve won more than 20 titles and from that experience I want to instill a strong mentality in the players and try to become champions. That mentality is something that I constantly tell the players about.”

The thoughts were echoed by forward Egy Maulana who knows just how much expectation there is for the Garuda to deliver a first title for their hugely passionate fanbase back home.

“We know that we have failed five times now but we don’t feel pressure. Instead, we just know what a big chance we have and that becoming champions won’t come from talking but only from hard work,” he said.

“We need to believe in ourselves. Some may think that Thailand are stronger than us but I’m not afraid. The shape of the ball is round and if we believe we’re going home with the trophy then there’s nothing that’s impossible.”

Indonesia, who eliminated hosts Singapore in the semi-finals, will be missing their left-back Pratama Arhan for Wednesday’s match through suspension.

The 2020 edition of the biennial tournament, which began in 1996, was postponed from last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Huge bonus

The War Elephants will receive handsome financial rewards if they lift the trophy on New Year’s Day.

Thailand team manager Nualphan Lamsam watches her players train.

They have already got 10 million baht from Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Somyot Poompunmuang for beating holders Vietnam in the semi-finals.

Before the tournament, Thailand manager Nualphan Lamsam promised to give the team 20 million baht if they win the title.

She this week added another six million baht to the sum. The champions will also get about 10 million baht in prize money.