Thais expect tough going in title defence
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Thais expect tough going in title defence

Kingdom face Indonesia, Vietnam in first round at SEA Games, hosts Malaysia relish easy draw

Thailand have been handed a tough first-round draw for the 2017 SEA Games football competition and their coach Worawut Srimakha admits that the Kingdom face an uphill battle in defending their crown in Malaysia.

The 29th episode of the SEA Games, the regional edition of the Olympics, will be held in the Malaysian capital from Aug 19-30. The football competition of the Games is restricted to U23 players.

Thailand were placed in Group B for the round-robin, first-round action at the official draw for the sport in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The other teams in the group are Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Timor Leste.

Hosts Malaysia were drawn in the relatively easier Group A in which they face Myanmar, Singapore, Laos and Brunei.

Worawut, who has been entrusted with the task of guiding Thailand to their third straight SEA Games football gold medal, said: "It is a tough draw for our team because every team in the group has almost the same potential.

"I am worried after seeing the draw, to say the least.

"It will be a tough and taxing tournament for everyone for sure as we are required to play a match every alternate day.

"Right now, I focused on devising game plans for so many matches. I am more concerned about winning matches than playing beautiful and attractive football.

"We need to work out our tactics for each match and the players should be ready to adapt to any change quickly in case the plan A doesn't work.

"Our first goal in the tournament will be to make it to the semi-finals. I don't care who we face in the semi-finals. If it has to be Malaysia then so be it."

Team manager Watanya Wongopasri also admitted that Thailand had been placed in a difficult group.

She said: "It is a tough group for the Thai side because there are teams like Indonesia and Vietnam in there.

"Although we played Vietnam twice in recent friendly matches, they were not at full strength at the time.

"Malaysia, as the hosts, will be tough for every team in the tournament, but we could only face them in the semi-finals or the final.

"Our goal is to win the gold medal and we are going to give it our best shot."

Meanwhile, the draw was seen as a big boost to Malaysia's hopes of winning the gold in the biennial event.

"Judging by the draw and the fact that we are playing on home soil, we have an obligation to qualify for the final, at least, to appease our football fans," Football Association of Malaysia secretary-general Datuk Hamidin Amin said.

Malaysia will be out to make up for the disappointment of the 2015 edition in Singapore when they missed out on the semi-finals.

According to media reports, Malaysia coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee is happy with the draw but still advised his players to be cautious against Myanmar and Singapore in the group stage.

"Even though we are in an easier group, we cannot treat Myanmar and Singapore lightly. We have to put ourselves in a good position to advance to the next stage," Ong was quoted as saying.

Commenting on growing expectations that Malaysia could reach the final by topping their group and avoiding Thailand in the semi-finals, Ong said: "We don't know what is going to happen in the other group with Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia there. It's important for us to just focus on our group and our games."

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