Thailand's national football team yesterday departed for the away leg of their 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 semi-final with Malaysia, knowing that lifting the regional title for the third time in a row could bring along a 30-million-baht windfall in prize money and bonuses.
The National Stadium in Bukit Jalil will be packed to the rafters when Malaysia, the 2010 Suzuki Cup winners, host the War Elephants tomorrow night. The second leg of the semi-final will be played on Wednesday in Bangkok.
The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) announced yesterday that all 80,000 tickets for the first leg have been sold out.
Thailand reached the semi-finals of the Southeast Asian championship after topping the Group B standings, while Malaysia booked their slot after a second-place finish in the other group.
In the other semi-final tomorrow, Group B runners-up the Philippines host Vietnam in Bacolod city.
The winners of this year's tournament will pocket US$300,000 (about 10 million baht), while the runners-up will receive $100,000. The losing semi-finalists will earn $50,000 each.
The Thais have already been promised four million baht in bonuses for their group stage victories over Indonesia and Singapore by team director Kitisak Jumpathippong, who has also committed himself to rewarding the players with another 10 million baht if they can win their sixth regional title overall.
The Football Association of Thailand is hoping to raise an additional five million baht in bonuses for the national team stars, carrying the total to almost 30 million baht in cash rewards.
Meanwhile Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac said playing in front of such a large crowd in an away game should prove to be a good experience for a number of players in the team.
"I understand that we will be playing in front of a large partisan crowd on the match day, but I see it as a good learning experience for my players," said Rajevac. "It makes it even more important for us to produce a good result in the match.
"We have studied the Malaysian team's game very well and know their strong and weak points.
"The most important thing is that we have to stick to our own tactics and our own style of football.
"If we can reproduce the form we showed in our group stage matches and do things the way we have been doing them in training, I believe we can win the away leg of the semi-final."
Thailand playmaker Sanrawat Detchmitr said he was aware of the Malaysian plan to mark him and Adisak Kraisorn, the tournament's leading scorer with eight goals.
"It could be a good thing for us because it would free up the other nine Thai players on the pitch. We have our plans ready for all scenarios," said Sanrawat.
"We know that there will be huge crowd at the venue supporting the home team but we only have to follow our own game plan and hope for a good result."