War Elephants told to aim for a win
Thais need draw with Iraq to reach quarters
Hosts Thailand need a draw against Iraq in their final AFC U23 Championship Group A game to advance, but the War Elephants' Japanese coach Akira Nishino says his men will be going for a win in tonight's clash.
The Thais are one point behind leaders Australia after two games and a draw against former champions Iraq, who are in third place in the group with two points, will be enough to guarantee them a place in the quarter-finals of the tournament.
The Olyroos also need a draw against Bahrain in their last Group A game at Thammasat Stadium in Rangsit to avoid leaving their fate hinging on the outcome of the Thailand-Iraq encounter at Bangkok's Rajamangala National Stadium.
Thailand started off strongly when they stunned Bahrain 5-0 but then lost 2-1 to Australia in the first two matches.
Nishino has called on his players to raise their performance once again as they go in search of the one point that would take them through to the knockout phase.
"After overseeing our preparations for the tournament, I think the players have done better than I expected," said the Japanese tactician.
"As of now, we only have three points but I believe that the players are doing their absolute best form.
"Perhaps more than that, the players are challenging themselves. They are identifying their own weaknesses and improving them."
Nishino added that he wanted his players to go for a win over Iraq.
"We have had a chat and I have told the players to aim for a win rather than planning for a draw.
"The next game will decide whether we go through or not, but we will in all likelihood focus on improving once again."
"Of course, we have to assess the fitness and recovery levels of our players but we will do our utmost to be ready for the game," said the veteran coach, referring to injuries sustained by forwards Supachai Chaided and Suphanat Mueanta.
"Suphanat has returned to full training with the team, but Supachai had to train separately."
Nishino also said that he might make some changes to the starting line-up.
"The way Iraq play football would make it necessary for us to be on the toes all the time, so we might opt for fitter players for this game," he said.
"We need to run a check on Supachai's fitness again -- we have already seen what his absence could do to our offence and defence."
Iraq coach Abdulghani Shahad, on his part, called on his team to produce an improved performance when they face Thailand.
After coming from behind in the first two matches to secure two draws against Australia and Bahrain, Iraq head into the encounter knowing that only a win would take them through to the last eight at the expense of the hosts.
However, the competition's inaugural champions have undoubtedly been far from their best in Southeast Asia and their indifferent form has led the Iraqi coach to demand more from his charges.
"The next match will be decisive for us," said Shahad.
"We have to review our whole situation and wherever possible try to avoid repeating all the mistakes that we were committing in our first two matches.
"We also have to work on making the most of the chances we get in front of goal so that we do not repeat what happened in our opening fixtures."
Although he has yet to decide on Iraq's starting 11 for the game, Shahad is adamant that there are plenty of options available for him ahead of the decisive showdown.
"We have several choices as regards to the players that we can use in the match against Thailand," he said.
"But we only have a short time to fix things and work on getting three important points from the match, a game which is our last hope."
In Group B on Sunday, 2020 Olympic hosts Japan became the first nation to be knocked out of the tournament after a 2-1 loss to Syria, while and Saudi Arabia drew 0-0 with Qatar.
In Group C, South Korea booked their quarter-final berth after defeating Iran 2-1 and 2018 champions Uzbekistan eliminated China with a 2-0 win.
The tournament ends on Jan 26.