As they prepare to face the Caltex Socceroos on Tuesday night in Melbourne, Asian football expert @JohnnyDuerden explains why Thailand have improved under experienced new manager Milovan Rajevac.
Thailand heads to Melbourne for Tuesday’s FIFA 2018 World Cup against Australia cast very much in the role of the underdog and understudy on what is going to be a night to remember, whatever transpires.
The Caltex Socceroos needs to win and hope that they Japan can do them a favour in Saudi Arabia.
First, Thailand has to be defeated.
The odds are that the host will win as the War Elephants have collected just two points from nine games in Group B.
Yet Tuesday offers Thailand some redemption.
NEW COACH, NEW DEFENSIVE SOLIDITY
For new coach Milovan Rajevac it gives him a chance to stamp his authority on his new job.
At 63, he's very much a journeyman coach - but after almost 30 years in the coaching game, he's accumulated a wealth of knowledge after spells with Ghana, Qatar and Algeria as well as a host of clubs in his native Serbia and across Asia.
Like Japan coach Vahid Halihodzic,64, he's coached around the world and both were part of various Yugoslavia national teams of the 1970s.
It's a quality football pedigree he brings to the Thais.
Nobody expected Thailand to qualify for Russia but being winless after nine games is something of a disappointment. Getting a good result in Australia would at least end the campaign on a high.
The Serbian was appointed in April taking over from Kiatisuk Senamuang. ‘Zico’ was in charge for the 2-2 draw in Bangkok last November.
Rajevac has been trying to tighten the defence. So far, the signs have been encouraging.
His first game in June ended in a 1-1 draw at home to the United Arab Emirates. Only a last-minute goal from the talented Ali Mabkhout prevented a first victory for the Thais.
Against Iraq, Thailand were without star goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatachanan and midfielder Tanaboon Kesarat and both will be missing in Melbourne too.
Thailand took some time to get going and in front of a half-empty Rajamangala Stadium and with both teams out of the running, there was a lack of urgency on both sides.
TACTICAL FLUIDITY BUT INDISCIPLINE REMAINS
Thailand kicked off in a 4-2-3-1 formation but despite a good opening period, started to get pinned back.
Iraq’s fluidity in midfield gave the hosts problems and it was no surprise when Justin Meram opened the scoring for Iraq in the first half.
In the second half, Thailand switched to a 3-4-3 formation and started to have much more of the ball in midfield. There was much more width and Iraq started to be stretched.
Right wing-back Do came off the bench early in the second half and his energy and running made a difference.
Just after the hour Do’s shot was deflected into the net and at that point looked as if the host could go on and get the first win in the group.
Then Thailand’s indiscipline proved costly and not for the first time in this third round of qualification.
A second yellow card for Thitiphan Puangjan with almost 20 remaining put the pressure on the hosts who had been looking quite comfortable. And then with six minutes remaining, Chalempong Kerdkaew brought down Mohannad Abdul-Raheem in the area.
The spot kick was duly dispatched by Saad Abdulameer and that was that - 2-1 to the Iraqis.
“I am not sure how we did not win the game,” said coach Rajevac after the match.
“We had the chances to do so but then we gave away a penalty.
“Now we have to think about Australia.
"We want to finish on a high but we know, of course, that going to Australia will be very tough for us.
"We are looking forward to the challenge.”