Polking: Thailand have clear target

Thailand coach Mano Polking (left) and Malaysia boss Brad Maloney shake hands during a press conference on Friday.

The Thai men’s football team begin their campaign to regain SEA Games glory on Saturday when they take on Malaysia in Vietnam.

The match in Group B kicks off at 7pm at Thien Trurong Stadium in Nam Dinh.

While Thailand coach Mano Polking on Friday dismissed suggestion that his men are favourites to lift the trophy, he said his team are capable of achieving the feat.

He told a press conference that hosts and defending champions Vietnam and Indonesia have higher chances of winning the title than Thailand.

Polking said both sides had more time to practise than the Thais who only began training for the 31st SEA Games this week due to their domestic league duties.

However, Polking said he believes his men can get good results.

“We are here with a clear target [winning the gold medal],” said the Brazilian.

“We do not think we are hot favourites. But we have a quality team and good players and I think we can get good results at this SEA Games.

“At the moment, we have to focus on our four games in the group stage.”

The other teams in Group B are Singapore, Cambodia and Laos.

In Group A are, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Timor Leste.

The men’s football tournament at the SEA Games is for U23 players.

Polking is normally coach of the Thai senior side but has been appointed to take charge of the SEA Games team for a one-time assignment after U23 coach Worrawoot Srikama saw his squad suffer a string of poor results ahead of the Vietnam tournament.

“It’s an honour and great opportunity to coach the SEA Games team,” said Polking, who guided the Thai senior side to win the AFF Suzuki Cup in January.

“We don’t have much time to prepare but we are ready to do our best and reach our goal.”

The 46-year-old had a brief spell with Vietnamese club Ho Chi Minh City before being named as coach of Thailand last year.

He became an instant national hero in Thailand when he steered the War Elephants to the Suzuki Cup title.

Thailand have won a record 16 SEA Games titles.

The Thais last won gold in 2017 and were eliminated in the first round in the previous Games in 2019.

Malaysia have claimed the title six times, the last in 2011.

They are now coached by Australian Brad Maloney.

The 31st SEA Games, postponed from last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, officially start on May 12 and end on May 23.

The men’s football tournament began on Friday.