Thailand reach Suzuki Cup final

Thailand moved a step closer to ending a 10-year Asean title drought when they reached the AFF Suzuki Cup final by beating defending champion Malaysia 2-0 for a 3-1 aggregate win on Thursday night.

After a 1-1 draw in Malaysia in the first leg of their semi-final Thailand advanced to the final thanks to goals from in-form striker Teerasil Dangda in the 60th minute and defender Teerathorn Bunmathan five minutes later in the return leg at a packed Supachalasai stadium.

Defender Teerathorn Bunmathan scores the second goal in the Suzuki Cup semi-final at Supachalasai stadium. (Photo by Taweechai Tawatpakorn)

The Thais will meet Singapore in a two-leg final for the biggest prize in Southeast Asian football. The first leg will be in the city state on Wednesday, and the second leg in Bangkok next Saturday.

It will be Thailand's sixth appearance in the Asean championship final. Both Thailand and Singapore have won the title three times, and next week's champion will be the first to win the fourth biennial championship since it was launched in 1996.

Thailand claimed its record third crown in 2002 and the Lions have since matched the War Elephants' achievement.

At Supachalasai, Malaysia, who had score to stand a realistic chance of progressing, got off to a lively start, as captain Safiq Rahim forced Thailand goalkeeper Kawin Thammasatchanan to make a save in the opening minute.

But Thailand, whose coach Winfried Schaefer was banned from the bench after being sent off in Kuala Lumpur, soon found their rhythm and looked more dangerous.

Datsakorn Thonglao's pass sent Teerasil clear after 30 minutes but the striker's shot went wide.

Malaysia were reduced to 10 men two minutes before the half, when Mahamad Fadhli received a second yellow card following a clash with Datsakorn who was also booked.

Thailand went ahead after one hour when Teerasil intercepted a poor clearance by Amar Rohidan to score past Malaysia goalkeeper Farizal Marlias.

It was Teerasil's fifth goal of the 2012 Suzuki Cup. He also scored the equaliser against the Tigers in the first leg.

Five minutes later, Teerathorn put the match out of Malaysia's reach.

"We are very happy to reach the final," said coach Schaefer, who watched his men from the stands.

"We played very well with determination. But we lost concentration in the final moments. We should have scored three or five goals."

As for finalist Singapore, "They are a good team and have good spirit. All their 22 players are good."

Striker Teerasil Dangda reacts after putting the ball into the back of the net. (Photo by Taweechai Tawatpakorn)

As Thailand will have to play on artificial grass in the first leg, Schaefer said he would ask Thai Premier League club Bangkok Glass to allow his players to train on their artificial turf.

He was confident that Thailand would regain the crown.

"We have not won the title for 10 years and it's time for us to win back the title," he said.

Malaysia coach K Rajagobal said: "In the first half, we did well. But when our player was sent off and we condeded the first goal, it was very difficult for us to make a comeback."

He also criticised South Korean referee Lee Min-hu for being too lenient with Thailand.

"If we had had the same number of players, the match would have been more exciting," he said.

Related search: Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Suzuki Cup

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Writer: Wanchai Rujawongsanti
Position: Sports Editor