Football: Lions need mettle in the middle in crunch AFF Suzuki Cup tie against Thailand

Winger Gabriel Quak believes Singapore can control the engine room and break up the slick passing football that the Thais are capable of.
Winger Gabriel Quak believes Singapore can control the engine room and break up the slick passing football that the Thais are capable of.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Thailand-based Singapore players point to midfield battle as key to stopping favourites

It would take a brave one to say that five-time Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup champions Thailand have a soft centre.

But, if the Lions are to achieve victory against the War Elephants in their final Group B fixture in Bangkok on Sunday to ensure qualification for the semi-finals, they must dominate the midfield.

Winger Gabriel Quak - one of five players in Fandi Ahmad's squad who plied their trade in Thai domestic football this past year - believes Singapore can control the engine room and break up the slick passing football that the Thais are capable of, to have a chance of coming away from the Rajamangala Stadium with what seems like an unlikely three points.

"Thai players - from defenders all the way up to the strikers - are very comfortable with the ball, but we have to be patient and not give them too much respect," Quak, who joined Thai Navy FC in Thai League 1 in February, told The Straits Times. "And they really don't like being pressed."

The 27-year-old has first- hand experience that could come in handy on Sunday. In June, his Thai Navy side defeated Bangkok Glass 1-0 with a perfect pressing game.

More interestingly, Bangkok Glass' two central midfielders - Thitipan Puangchan and Tanaboon Kesarat - will very likely face the Lions on Sunday as part of a midfield trio. The third is Bangkok United's Sanrawat Dechmitr, who was formerly on the books of Singapore Premier League side Tampines Rovers.

"My Navy team are less tactically disciplined than our national team, but similar in that we play with fast wingers," said Quak, who has enjoyed a new lease of life since his move to Thailand.

 
 
 

"In that match, we (Navy) really closed them down, didn't give them space to play, and came away with a win. I believe we can do something similar on Sunday."

Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny also believes the midfield battle will be key in the crucial clash, having played against majority of the players in Thailand's AFF Suzuki Cup squad missing J-League stars such as Chanathip Songkrasin, Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan due to club commitments.

Muangthong United forward Adisak Kraisorn is in scintillating form, having scored seven goals in three games to top the AFF Cup scoring charts, but Hassan felt that the 27-year-old hitman can be stopped if the Lions cut the supply line from midfield.

"Adisak is very quick and ruthless inside the box, but we can't pay too much attention to him. I think the midfield area will be very important for us," said Hassan, who plays for Thai League 2 side Army United.

The 34-year-old also recalls playing with Sanrawat - better known by his nickname Camp - at Tampines and believes they have to keep a tight rein on the creative midfielder.

"We know his quality and the kind of passes he can make. He's a bit of a lazy player who doesn't run much, but can do magic when he gets the ball. He doesn't like to be pressed, so we must close him down," he added.

"The coaches have done their homework, too, and I'm sure we will have a plan for Sunday."

Hassan and national captain Hariss Harun were part of the team in 2009 which did what no other Singapore side managed in the 34 years prior - win in Bangkok.

Led by former national coach Raddy Avramovic, Singapore shocked the mighty Thais 1-0 in an Asian Cup qualifier, courtesy of an Aleksandar Duric header.

Hariss, who turned in a sensational performance choking the Thai midfield then on the eve of his 19th birthday, remembers the match vividly.

"We had lost 3-1 to Thailand at the old National Stadium and, going into this game, no one gave us a chance. Then we lost Fahrudin Mustafic to injury (in the 31st minute), but we were tough and stayed strong," said Hariss, who is also the skipper of Malaysia Super League champions Johor Darul Takzim.

"We need something similar now. The reality is that we need to win to be certain that we qualify and we need to be very strong mentally."