War Elephants need a draw to progress

War Elephants need a draw to progress

Thailand's Shinnaphat Leeaoh, left, vies with Australia's Nicholas D'Agostino. Pattarapong Chatpattarasill
Thailand's Shinnaphat Leeaoh, left, vies with Australia's Nicholas D'Agostino. Pattarapong Chatpattarasill

Hosts Thailand squandered a one-goal advantage to go down 2-1 to Australia on Saturday night and need to avoid a loss to Iraq in their last AFC U23 Championship Group A game tomorrow to progress to the knockout phase of the tournament.

The Olyroos are now in possession of the top spot in the group with four points with the young War Elephants only one point adrift. Iraq, who salvaged a 2-2 draw with Bahrain on Saturday, are third with two points while Bahrain only have one point to their credit.

Australia were in arrears after 24 minutes when Anon Amornlerdsak sent the home crowd wild at Bangkok's Rajamagala National Stadium.

However, Nicholas D'Agostino was on hand to score either side of half-time as Australia followed up their opening day draw against Iraq with a three-point haul on Saturday night.

Things were moving well for the home team until forwards Supachai Chaided and Suphanat Mueanta took knocks and had to be substituted.

Thailand coach Akira Nishino attributed his side's defeat to their inability to cope with Australia's physicality.

"We challenged well and the players did the very best they could," said the Japanese coach.

"It was a physical game and we were playing a very powerful Australian side. We were always aware that there was a physical difference between ourselves and Australia. As a result, we tried to negate this with our speed and in the first half we did that well.

"In the second half we weren't as sharp in the final third and as you could see we failed to get behind the Australian defence or cope with their physicality."

Australia coach Graham Arnold praised the character of his team after their sensational comeback victory.

"I think we showed great character as a team after going 1-0 down," declared the former Sydney FC boss while thanking the Thai fans who held aloft a banner in support of those affected by the ongoing Australian bush fires.

"Their opening goal knocked our confidence for 10 minutes or so, but I thought after that, and especially in the second half, we played very well, controlled the game much better and could have actually won by more in the end."

All Thailand and Australia need now is one point apiece from their last group games tomorrow, and while the Olyroos take on Bahrain, the War Elephants face much tougher opponents in former champions Iraq.

Meanwhile, Nishino allowed Suppachai and Suphanat to have a day away from active training on Sunday.

"Suppachai and Suphanat were told to take it easy for a day and only engage in activities that won't aggravate pain," said Nishino.

"All others are fit and took part in training as usual."

Nishino added that he and staff coaches had had another look at videos of Iraq's recent games.

"It is important to know the tactics of your opponents but it is even more important to prepare well for a battle.

"In football, physical advantage is not everything. We must look for the weaknesses in our opponents' game that we can exploit and score goals against them."

After two straight draws, Iraq must beat Thailand to make it to quarter-finals of the tournament which offers three places to the top teams at 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.


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