Thais ready for Bahrain in U23 opener
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Thais ready for Bahrain in U23 opener

Nishino aims to take Kingdom to Olympics

Thailand coach Akira Nishino (left) and Bahrain boss Samir Chammam shake hands at a press conference on Tuesday.
Thailand coach Akira Nishino (left) and Bahrain boss Samir Chammam shake hands at a press conference on Tuesday.

Thailand begin their campaign at the AFC U23 Championship against Bahrain tonight as their Japanese coach Akira Nishino aims to take the young War Elephants to play in the Olympics in his home country.

The match at Bangkok's Rajamangala National Stadium kicks off at 8.15pm.

In today's other Group A game, Australia take on Iraq at Thammasat Stadium in Rangsit.

The top two teams of each group reach the quarter-finals with the top three finishers earning tickets to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Nishino admitted during a press conference yesterday that the other three teams in Group A are better than his men.

"We are aware of the strengths of the other teams in this group and it is clear that this competition is going to be a challenging one for Thailand," said Nishino who also coach of the Thai senior team.

"Our preparation has been focused on doing what we know we can do. We will do our very best to find answers to all the challenges which we face during our group stage games."

But the 64-year-old believes that his players can book a ticket to Tokyo.

"The aim for Thailand at this tournament is to qualify for the Olympics. This generation has a lot of potential but the players need more experience and need to improve," said Nishino, who steered his country to the last 16 round at the 2018 Fifa World Cup.

"We are therefore lucky that we have strong opponents and we are looking for the squad to perform well and gradually improve throughout the competition."

Thailand have a couple of players who have already played for the national senior squad, including forwards Supachai Chaided, Suphanat Mueanta and Supachok Sarachat, who all are from Buriram United.

Bahrain coach Samir Chammam is relishing the prospect of facing Thailand, with the Tunisian confident that his players will not be fazed by the home crowd.

"I think we are lucky to be playing our opening match against Thailand, a game that will be interesting and one which will see the host team receiving a lot of support," he said.

"We faced similar circumstances in Indonesia last year during a friendly tournament and we know what to expect. We must concentrate fully for 90 minutes to ensure we get the three points.

"We have been preparing for this competition since 2017. I trust my players and I believe we have a great chance to make history and qualify for Tokyo 2020."

Meanwhile, Abdulghani Shahad is hoping history can repeat itself as he looks to guide Iraq to the Olympics, just as he did four years ago in Qatar.

Shahad was at the helm as the Iraqis booked their place at Rio 2016 with a third place finish in the 2016 edition of the competition and he is setting his sights on a similar outcome.

"We have great ambitions to repeat our achievement in 2016 in Qatar and qualify for the Olympics as we have great players with wonderful capabilities," said Shahad.

Australia coach Graham Arnold said: "We've had a decent preparation over the last two weeks when we were in Kuala Lumpur. The players are all healthy and fit and we're looking forward to the tournament."

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