It's make-or-break match for Thailand

It's make-or-break match for Thailand

War Elephants take on defending champs Japan in second Group B game of Asian U23 meet

Thai players train on the eve of their match against reigning champions Japan.
Thai players train on the eve of their match against reigning champions Japan.

Thailand go into their second Group B encounter of the AFC U23 Championship against defending champions Japan in China today with their backs against the wall and fishing for novel ways to salvage motivation.

The match in Jiangyin kicks off at 6.30pm (Thai time) and will be televised live by Channel 7 and Bugaboo TV.

After a demoralising 1-0 loss to North Korea on Wednesday, Thailand risk failing to reach their target of making the quarter-finals of the biennial Asian youth championship.

The two top sides from each of the four groups will qualify for the last-eight stage.

The War Elephants, however, have found an extraordinary way to motivate themselves: They are refusing to avail a three-million-cash bonus announced by the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) for every win in the tournament if they don't reach the quarter-finals.

Thailand U23 captain Chenrop Samphaodi yesterday thanked FAT president Pol Gen Somyot Poompunmuang for announcing the incentive, but said: "My teammates had a talk after we lost to North Korea and unanimously agreed that we will not accept the rewards from the FAT if we cannot qualify for the second round of the tournament and meet the target we had set for ourselves earlier.

"Myself and other players have been with the team for a long time and through many things together.

"Every time we play, we play for the country and do our best in every match.

"I, as the team captain, would like to assure everyone that we will concentrate on every game we play.

"No matter what the outcome is, we will do our best. It is the goal of every player in this tournament to qualify for the next round.

"We have two matches left and we are ready to fight for a place in the quarter-finals."

Despite their bright start leading to a 1-0 win over Palestine, Japan U23 coach Hajime Moriyasu is taking nothing for granted, especially after tasting a 2-1 defeat against the War Elephants at the M-150 Cup in Buri Ram last month.

"We have played against them before, and we know that they have great skills and mobility," said Moriyasu. "They are an organised outfit and a good team.

"We lost to them previously, so we need to win our next meeting. The most important thing for us now is to be fresh mentally and develop as a team."

Thailand coach Zoran Jankovic acknowledges that Thailand have a mountain to climb.

"Japan are the best in Asia. It will be harder to play against them compared to DPR Korea. But we beat them in the M-150 Cup in Buri Ram, so who knows, we can do it again," said Jankovic.

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