Thailand kicked off their bid to wrest back the AFF Suzuki Cup title with a 2-0 victory over Timor Leste which also gave their new coach Mano Polking a winning start in Singapore on Sunday.
The War Elephants, who are seeking their sixth Asean title, were frustrated time and again by a stubborn Timor Leste defence before Pathompon Charoenrattanapirom and Supachok Sarachat struck in the second half to seal three points for the former champions.
Timor Leste sat deep in their own half and the Thais, skippered by veteran striker Teerasil Dangda, found it difficult to make inroads in the first half.
The War Elephants had the control of the ball but their forwards were wayward whenever they got close to the Timor Leste goal.
Supachok, Teerasil and Thitiphan Puangchan missed the chances they had and the Thais had a share of bad luck as well when a miscued clearance by a Timorese defender hit the bar in the 14th minute.
The Thais’ inability to find the net forced Mano into making a couple of substitutions after the break, sending in Pathompon and Thanawat Suengchitthawon.
The move paid off as Pathompon succeeded in breaking the deadlock, deftly bringing down a cross from Naruebodin Weerawatnodom before rifling the ball into the net in the 51st minute.
Timor Leste twice ventured into the Thai half but Nelson Viegas hit wide and Mouzinho de Lima’s shot was warded off by Thailand goalkeeper Chatchai Butprom with ease.
Thailand, who failed to reach the final of the last Suzuki Cup held in Vietnam three years ago, had all the possession but the goals they were expecting in the opening game against the regional minnows never materialised.
Despite Naruebodin, Thitiphan, Supachok and Sarach Yooyen making botch of good opportunities, the Thais were not be denied a respectable winning scoreline.
Naruebodin was the provider again and an acrobatic volley by Supachok on 81 minutes doubled the Thai lead, putting a comeback out of Timor Leste’s reach.
Shortly before the final whistle, a long shot by Pathompon was parried by Timor Leste goalkeeper Junildo Pereira, denying the impressive BG Pathum United midfielder his second goal of the match.
Thailand’s next game will be against arch-rivals Myanmar on Saturday.
The War Elephants are in Group A in which the other two teams are hosts Singapore and the Philippines.
Defending champions Vietnam are in Group B with Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos.
Vietnam kick off their title defence this evening against Laos with Malaysia taking on Cambodia in the other group B battle earlier in the afternoon.
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