Thais keen to press home advantage

Thais keen to press home advantage

Polking confident of victory against China

Thailand players attend a training session on Wednesday ahead of their World Cup qualifier against China on Thursday. (Photo supplied)
Thailand players attend a training session on Wednesday ahead of their World Cup qualifier against China on Thursday. (Photo supplied)

Thailand and China are aiming to get off to a good start in the 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign when they meet at Bangkok's Rajamangala National Stadium on Thursday night.

Thailand next travel to Singapore on Tuesday for a Group C clash in Asia's second phase of qualifying for the 2026 finals, which will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico and will be the first to feature 48 teams.

World No.24 South Korea host No.155 Singapore in the other Group C game on Thursday before taking on China next week.

With the top two teams in each of nine groups advancing to the next stage, Juergen Klinsmann's South Korea are hot favourites to be Group C champions.

World No.112 Thailand and No.79 China are expected to vie for the other slot, hence the War Elephants' home result against the Chinese is of great significance to the Thais.

A home loss to the Chinese could end Thailand's dreams of claiming their first ever ticket to the World Cup.

Thailand are almost at full strength, featuring the likes of midfielders Chanathip Songkrasin and Sarach Yooyen, defenders Theerathon Bunmathan, Pansa Hemviboon and Kevin Deeromram, and strikers Supachai Chaided and Teerasil Dangda.

Coach Mano Polking also has at his disposal four foreign-based players -- Ekanit Panya (Urawa Red Diamonds, Japan), Supachok Sarachart (Consadole Sapporo, Japan), Elias Dolah (Bali United, Indonesia) and Suphanat Mueanta (OH Leuven, Belgium).

However, Teerasil is not fully fit as he has just returned from an injury.

"We would keep him in the team even if he could play only 10 minutes," Polking said of the veteran forward. "He is important to us on and off the pitch."

The German-Brazilian coach added: "I am sure that if we stay focused, we can get the desired results. We can beat China in the first game at home. We have analysed the Chinese team. They have a strong team with a number of good players in the Chinese Super League."

Thailand manager Nualphan Lamsam has promised to give the team six million baht if they beat both China and Singapore.

Nualphan has appointed Chanathip and Theerathon as co-captains.

It is unclear whether the move is based on superstitious beliefs or footballing reasons.

Theerathon will captain the War Elephants against China and Chanathip will lead the team against Singapore.

Both are confident that their team will finish off China and Singapore.

"I am ready as I don't have any injury. I want to help Thailand win," said Chanathip.

"We have to beat both China and Singapore. China are strong but we don't have to fear them."

Theerathon said: "This is a home match and we want to claim three points. Everyone wants to start with a win.

"We are ready to play with China and Singapore and we should be able to create good results in these games."

China have a superior head-to-head record against Thailand, with 18 wins, six defeats and two draws.

However, Thailand won 1-0 in their most recent meeting at the China Cup in 2019 with Chanathip scoring the winner.

China coach Aleksandar Jankovic said: "My full focus is on the first game against Thailand and the goal will never change -- that is to win. Sometimes you have to adjust the way of playing, but the target and the mindset must always be to go for it.

"I watched their [Thailand's] games, and we know everything about them, including their tactical options. But we will stick to our own values, our own way of playing and let the opponents think about how they can counter us."

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