SINGAPORE - Five-time champions Thailand started their 2020 Suzuki Cup campaign in unconvincing fashion with a 2-0 win over Timor-Leste at the National Stadium on Sunday (Dec 5) afternoon.
This was the first football match to be played at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium since the Lions' 3-1 loss to Uzbekistan on Oct 15, 2019.
The Thais, ranked 118th in the world, were expected to thump their Group A opponents, 76 places below them, in the tournament's opening match. After all, the Thais ran out 7-0 winners in their last meeting at the 2018 edition.
This time though, both teams headed into half-time level at 0-0.
Substitute Pathompol Charoenrattanapirom broke the deadlock six minutes after the restart before Supachok Sarachat added the second in the 81st minute with a smart finish at the front post after a cross from the right flank.
Unsurprisingly, the Thais looked rusty, given they had not played a warm-up match prior to the start of the month-long Cup.
This was also head coach Mano Polking's first match in charge of the War Elephants, after taking over from Japanese coach Akira Nishino in September.
He handed a debut to 22-year-old centre-back Kritsada Kaman whilst also recalling veteran forward Teerasil Dangda back into the starting 11. The 33-year-old had been left out of Thailand's last five matches.
But they were clearly missing foreign based Chanathip Songkrasin and Theerathon Bunmathan. The duo, who ply their trades in Japan were not part of the matchday squad after featuring for their club sides in the J.League on Saturday.
German Polking said he was happy to take all three points in the opening game regardless of the scoreline.
He noted: "We knew the first match would be difficult. We were anxious going into it. But we controlled the game and we created a lot of chances.
"It's always difficult to play in the first game and especially in a game where the opponents defended deep. Overall, we can play better but for the first step we are just happy with the three points."
He said the return of Chanathip and Theerathon to the starting XI will give his side a boost. He added: "They are the best players in the region. We are happy that they will be with us from now on.
"But today, all credit to my players, they tried their best. Yes, we could be more clinical but I am happy. We only trained three or four days together.
"We want to do better than this and now we will have two great players who will help us to do better."
Thailand next take on Myanmar on Dec 11 while Timor-Leste face the Philippines on the same day.
Given the huge disparity between both countries in the world rankings, Thailand were expected to start their Suzuki Cup campaign with a convincing win but this was anything but that, even taking into account the absence of Chanathip and Theerathon.
Football fans in South-east Asia have become accustomed to watching the Thai national team in full flow especially at the Suzuki Cup over the years and judging from this display, it may take some time for the Thais to adapt to new man Polking's methods.
Despite taking 21 shots, just scoring two will not go down well with the new coach.
As the tournament goes on, the Thais will improve but with goal difference possibly playing a part in deciding the top two in Group A, a meek 2-0 win against Timor-Leste may come back to haunt them.