Victory in football final a watershed for Thailand

War Elephants assert dominance but Myanmar fans display amazing spirit

Thailand 3

Myanmar 0

TOO fast, too furious and, quite simply, too good.

Thailand are ready to dominate the Asean game for years to come.

Their Under-23s beat Myanmar 3-0 in the SEA Games final to cap a superlative defence of their gold medal: 24 goals scored in seven games and just one conceded.

Last December, the seniors lifted the Asean Football Championship, showcasing similarly tasty football that leaves fans hungry for more and opponents with no appetite to fight back.

As one-time kingpins Singapore and Malaysia struggle for a winning formula, the Thais - under national coach and legendary striker Kiatisuk Senamuang - rebuilt their pipeline in recent years to churn out players with pace, panache and power.

It is no wonder their U-23 coach Choketawee Promrut believes the talent is there to repeat history, when they claimed eight straight SEA Games golds between 1993 and 2007.

The majority of his players who thrilled 30,000-odd fans at the National Stadium also featured at the Asian Games in Incheon last year, finishing a creditable fourth.

But just six of them are in the likely first XI of the national team, stacked with star names like acrobatic goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan and deadly striker Teerasil Dangda. Swiss-born star midfielder Charyl Chappuis missed the SEA Games party due to a knee injury.

"We have enough good players to field three or four sides that can do well in South-east Asia," said former S-League defender Choketawee, 40. "This is the strongest Thai team to ever win the gold so our target now is higher. We have to aspire to do well at the Asian Games and, one day, the Olympics."

Star forward Chanathip Songkrasin added: "If we can play like this against teams like Japan and Australia, then we can say we made it."

Making their first appearance in the final since 2007, when they lost to Thailand, Myanmar tackled hard and pressed harder, but could only watch in despair as the ball zipped between their tricky and teasing opponents.

The War Elephants mustered 15 shots in the first half alone but found Myanmar goalkeeper Phyo Kyaw Zin in top form.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 54th minute when centre-back Tanaboon Kesarat sidefooted home after a scramble from a corner. The scorer and his team-mates hurdled over advertising boards to celebrate in front of their fans.

Further strikes by Chananan Pombubpha and substitute Pinyo Inpinit earned the Thais a 17 million baht (S$680,000) bonus for the gold.

Myanmar coach Kyi Lwin, who played in the 1993 outfit that also lost to Thailand, said: "We played well in the first half but... lacked the experience to maintain it."

Besides the two finalists, Vietnam showed they were a class apart from the rest of the competition. They demolished Indonesia 5-0 in the bronze play-off.

Still, arguably the best entertainment yesterday was provided by Myanmar's fanatical fans.

They brandished banners of "We Are Champion", belted out their national anthem repeatedly and cheered every tackle. The stands literally shook 25 minutes in - and that was for their team winning their first corner.

They saved their best for last, applauding the Thai players during their lap of honour to celebrate a 15th gold in 28 editions.

It was an unforgettable night - Thailand made their mark on the field, Myanmar did so off it.

nsanjay@sph.com.sg

 Get more updates, photos and videos