Thailand 2 Philippines 1
Three-time champions Thailand turned on the style in a 2-1 victory over the Philippines on Saturday to take pole position in Group A of the AFF Suzuki Cup.
Two goals in a devastating two-minute spell from Jakkapan Pornsai and Anucha Kitpongsri just before half-time looked to have put the Thais in easy street but Holland-based Paul Mulders pulled one back in the 76th minute to set up a nervy closing spell for the hosts.
With Vietnam drawing 1-1 with Myanmar in the opening game, Thailand lead the group on three points.
The co-hosts, searching for a record fourth crown after a barren 10-year period, played some delightful football but coach Winfried Schafer will have been concerned at their profligacy in front of goal.
“Only one mistake tonight we did not shoot for goal number three,” he said. “I said before the game that Philippines had strong players with good fitness and they gave us problems especially early on.
“Philippines are a new power in Asean football and it was a good victory for us.”
Philippine coach Michael Weiss said that Thailand deserved the win but he was still confident that his side would progress to the semis.
“Overall it was a deserved victory,” he said. “We did not play our best.
“I think we needed the game - if we get into a bit of a rhythm I am pretty sure we can reach the next round.”
As expected, Schafer started with Teerasil Dangda as a lone striker with five players stretched across midfield.
Weiss, who said on Friday that he would be happy with a draw, also packed the middle of the park in an attempt to blunt Thailand’s attacking ability.
Datsakorn Thonglao, so often the creator-in-chief for Thailand, handed the Philippines an early warning of his threat with a lovely ball over the defence which landed just out of Teerasil’s reach.
Thailand went on to dominate the opening exchanges without really threatening Philippines keeper Eduard Sacapono, thrown into the breach in the absence of first choice Neil Etheridge who was not released by English Premier League side Fulham.
Datsakorn, playing in his fourth AFF Suzuki Cup, was guilty of missing a scoring opportunity in the 24th minute when he latched onto a poor clearance only to see his close-range shot deflected over the bar.
But Thailand took a deserved lead in the 39th minute when midfielder Jakkapan struck home a lay back from speedy wing back Theerathon Bunmathan, the only player from 2011 Thai Premier League champions Buriram in the squad.
The Thais went for the jugular and doubled the scoring just two minutes later when Chonburi’s Anucha Kitpongsri rounded off a sweeping move involving Datsakorn and Teerasil by wrong footing a defender and slamming the ball past Sacapano into the roof of the net.
Anucha had the first real chance of the second half, firing over the bar after good lead-up play by Datsakorn and Jakkapan.
Angel Guirado, who plays his club football for Salgaocar FC in India, was showing some neat touches in midfield but, without support, attempted long range efforts that sailed wide.
Thailand were playing some beautiful one-touch football and a sweeping move in the 68th minute ended with Teerasil heading a cross from Theerathon over the bar with the Philippines defence all at sea.
The Thais suffered a blow in the 72nd minute when influential midfielder Datsakorn was stretchered off after a heavy challenge.
Sumanya Purisay should have wrapped up the points in the next minute but shot into the side netting when straight through on Sacapano.
Philippines pulled one back in the 76th minute after a quick counter-attack. Substitute Patrick Reichelt controlled the ball well out on the right and found Mulders in space, the Ado Den Haag striker picking his spot with a side foot.
As the game started to boil over, the Philippines coach was sent to the stands after getting involved in an incident on the sideline.