THAILAND CROWNED KINGS OF SEA GAMES FOOTBALL FOR RECORD 14TH TIME
Thailand clinched the men’s football gold medal of the 2013 Myanmar SEA Games with a collected 1-0 win over Indonesia in front of a vociferous crowd of 3,150 at Zeyarthiri Stadium last night. A touch of Thai magic from playmaker Pokklaw Anan put through Sarawat Masuk, who produced a deft flick over Indonesian goalkeeper Kurnia Hermansyah to score the winning goal in the 21st minute of the match. With the win, Thailand extend their record to 14 gold medals in the competition.
Before kickoff, after they had belted out with gusto their respective national anthems, both sets of fans were creating a din with their horns and cheer. This brought a real cup final atmosphere for arguably the showpiece event of the Games, even though it was played in a vastly empty stadium.
The Indonesian fans might have been the louder of two with the aid of their drums, but they must have also quietly known that the last time Indonesia had beaten Thailand in a SEA Games final was way back in the 1991 Manila games. That was also the last time that record gold medal winners Thailand had been defeated in the final of the men’s competition. Following that, the Thais went on an unprecedented run of eight straight gold medals, before a resurgent Malaysia put a stop to that run by winning the last two editions.
Now the Changsuk, or Thai War Elephants, were hungry to reclaim their crown. Favorites coming into the game, especially after their earlier 4-1 victory against the same opponents in the group stage in Yangon, they were in control of the game from the early stages and it came as no surprise when they took the lead after 20 minutes.
Right winger Sarawut made a lightning burst down the wing and played a brilliant one-two with Pokklaw, which played him through behind the Indonesian backline with an excellent pass. After receiving the ball, the Muangthong United player flicked the ball over onrushing Indonesian keeper, with it dropping just under the crossbar, to give the Thais a deserved lead.
Despite their silky passing which allowed them to win most of the possession in the first half, the Thais did not always have it their own way. Indonesia was finding joy down the flanks through their speedy wingers and forcing the Thais into conceding needless free kicks in the Thai defensive third. But Garuda Muda, or the Young Garudas, could not make the most of the dead ball opportunities handed to them and went into the break a goal behind.
Thailand emerged out of the halftime interval happy to sit back and let Garuda Muda come at them, and the Garuda Muda did give them a couple of scares, most notably when Rizki Ramdani’s shot on the turn from the edge of the box was deflected just narrowly wide of the far post in the 75th minute.
But as the fourth official signaled four minutes of added time, Thai fans sensed victory was just around the corner. In truth, despite the second half onslaught from the Indonesians, Thailand’s one-goal advantage was never seriously troubled. In the end, the Indonesian siege could find no gaps in the Thai fortress of blue defenders and with an acrobatic bicycle-kick clearance from one of the Thai defenders, the referee blew the final whistle to signal the return of Thailand to the top of SEA Games football.
“We worked hard and selected the right players for our team,” explained Thai coach Kiatisuk Senamuang, when asked what was the secret to the team’s triumph. “We have been training together for one year since January.”
Indonesian coach Rahmad Darmawan felt that his team was just short of luck to snatch the gold from the Thais on the day.
“Today we did not play badly and in the second half we dominated possession and had chances,” said the Indonesian coach. “We were unlucky and just could not finish.”
As for his counterpart, the legendary Thai striker, nick-named “Zico” for his goal-scoring prowess, can now add to the four SEA Games gold medals he already won between 1993 and 1999 as part of the Changsuk.
“This is very exciting for me because the four before were as a player and now this is my first as a head coach,” added the 40-year old.
“I feel very proud of our boys and for our country.”