DUBAI • His fans compare him to Argentina superstar Lionel Messi, and Chanathip Songkrasin proved that he too can be a match winner when his team need him most.
The 25-year-old midfielder, who plays his club football for Japan's Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, kept Thailand's Asian Cup hopes alive by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Bahrain in their second Group A match in Dubai yesterday.
The Thais were under pressure at the Al-Maktoum Stadium following their 4-1 loss to India on Sunday.
Milovan Rajevac was sacked as coach after that defeat, which meant the War Elephants needed a win yesterday to stay in contention to progress from the group stage.
They showed their ambition when Chanathip put the Thais in the driving seat in the 58th minute with a superbly struck volley that rocketed past goalkeeper Sayed Shubbar Alawi.
Thai interim head coach Sirisak Yodyadthai said he was not surprised with the result.
"I promised a surprise in the pre-match conference, and that came basically from the belief I had from my players," he told Dubai's Gulf News. "I always believed they could deliver on the pitch. We did very well to keep Bahrain away from a goal in the first half and, in the second, the players delivered exactly what I wanted."
It was only Thailand's second Asian Cup win in 22 games. Their previous win came in 2007, when they beat Oman on home soil.
The win did not come easy. Thailand had zero shots on target as Bahrain controlled the first half, forcing goalkeeper Chatchai Bootprom into a double save.
Following Chanathip's goal, Chatchai again had to save brilliantly from Ali Jaafar Madan as Bahrain hunted unsuccessfully for the equaliser. The victory put Thailand temporarily level on three points with India, who took on the United Arab Emirates in a later match, the result of which was not available at press time.
The Thais next face hosts UAE on Monday in their final group match.
The top two from each group and four best third-placed teams will move into the last 16.
In another match yesterday, Jordan, who upset champions Australia in the tournament opener, became the first team to seal their progress to the knockout stage with a 2-0 win over Syria. The victory left them top of Group B with six points.
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